Board leans toward online classes to start 2020-21 school year

WEST PALM BEACH — Palm Beach County School Board members came to a meeting of the minds in a workshop Tuesday, July 7, that at next week’s meeting they’ll seriously consider beginning the 2020-21 school year with distance (online) learning only.

They met virtually for a workshop to discuss Superintendent Dr. Donald Fennoy’s and the reopening task forces’ recommendations that they consider three alternatives, full-time classroom instruction as was the norm before the coronavirus pandemic, full-time online instruction as the schools have been doing since March, or a combination of both. The district conducted a survey of parents that indicated some support for each approach, which may mean it needs to prepare for all three scenarios.

A 32-page report compiled by staff was presented to the board, detailing each option and the pros and cons of each. Fennoy told the board a health experts panel had recommended schools not be reopened fully until the increases in new COVID-19 cases and deaths in Palm Beach County have subsided. He added that the local district has a bit of leeway in implementing the state Department of Education’s order on Monday that all public schools be open five days a week at the start of the 2020-21 school year, which is set for Aug. 10, because it relies partly on community partners’ research and advice.

The district will submit the board’s decision to be made July 15 to the FDOE for approval.

According to its website, the PBCSD has two special committees set up to help the board make a decision. Its Health Advisory Committee (HAC) discussed the reopening of schools, and a Reopening Task Force (RTF) was instituted, tasked with surveying parents and staff to gather their opinions about reopening schools.

The HAC maintains frequent contact with federal, state and local government and public health agencies for the most current information, including the latest guidelines and recommendations issued for K-12 schools. It consists of medical professionals and district personnel who engage in daily planning and discussion to share important updates, review the district’s pandemic protocols, and provide guidance and communication to Superintendent Fennoy.

The HAC will continue to advise the superintendent throughout the 2020-2021 school year, to ensure that appropriate decisions are being made in real-time, using all available data. Thus far, the HAC has completed a preliminary survey to gather initial feedback from its members, and met twice with the superintendent to present their findings.

The RTF is comprised of high-ranking district administrative and school-based personnel who are responsible for presenting considerations, implications and possibilities of reopening options for the 2020-21 school year.

Over the past several weeks, the RTF has worked in collaboration with project managers representing all divisions and departments to craft meaningful reopening options while weighing input collected from parents, guardians and employees through surveys and town hall events.

The school board is scheduled to vote to approve any final plans during the July 15 regular School Board meeting. The public is encouraged to watch the board meetings live on palmbeachschools.org, on Comcast channel 235, or AT&T U-verse channel 99.

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