Miami-Dade County Public Schools’ plans keep shifting as coronavirus cases continue to spike exponentially.
The school district was due to announce its plan to reopen schools for the 2020-21 school year on Wednesday but postponed to squeeze in one more meeting with its work group of medical professionals and community members. The full plan will be presented at a special School Board meeting Wednesday, July 1.
“After the last Zoom call, as a parent, grandparent, I was extremely nervous and upset,” said Eileen Segal of the Family & Community Involvement Advisory Committee on Wednesday. “After listening today I feel a lot calmer.”
On Friday, the 23-member work group met virtually again to go over a revised draft plan. Seven models of how instruction would take place were whittled to four: A daily attendance at the schoolhouse model with reduced class sizes and social distancing; two hybrid models of in-person and online learning, either doing one every other day or two days at a time; and an entirely online model called “My School Online,” which students would follow on a regular school schedule, unlike the flexibility afforded this past Spring semester.
The plan right now is to start the 2020-21 year with in-person learning at the schoolhouse with smaller class sizes, social distancing and “ubiquitous” use of face masks required everywhere but optional in the classroom. For those who don’t want to send their children to school, they have July 6-10 to enroll their child in “My School Online.”
If at least 25% of a school’s population opts for online learning, then the school can accommodate students whose parents choose to send them to school. If fewer than 25% opt for online learning, parents will be surveyed July 13-20 on which hybrid model they prefer. Parents will have answers by July 27. The first day of class is scheduled for August 24.
Still, Superintendent Alberto Carvalho called for two subgroup meetings ahead of Wednesday’s meeting. The school district will conduct school-specific surveys for parents until July 10.
New Miami-Dade County Council PTA/PTSA President Sandra West pointed out that fewer than 50% of district parents responded to district surveys the first time. Carvalho said that level of response exceeded expectations and called it “a super sample.”
Dr. Judy Schaechter, pediatrics chair and chief of service for child health at UM Jackson Health System, spoke highly of the school district’s plan.
“You’ve come up with something I think we can all get behind and feel really good about,” she said.
Schaechter had one recommendation: Require the flu vaccine for all students returning to school.
“Flu looks like coronavirus,” she said. “It will flood the healthcare system, it will make everyone sick…the best prevention we have is the flu vaccine.”
Carvalho said that is a legal challenge as some parents opt out of vaccines. He said the school district is contemplating having mobile units come to schools so students can get immunizations.
School staff will be provided with personal protective equipment. Carvalho said the school district is working with uniform companies to make personalized masks in school colors with logos.
Masks are required for entrances and exits, school buses, confined areas, changing classes and for the restroom. They are optional in the classroom “assuming six feet of distancing is maintained,” Carvalho said, adding later that “wearing a mask significantly impairs a teacher’s ability to teach.” See-through partitions in the classroom are also a possibility.
Common areas like media centers and auditoriums could also become classroom spaces. Schaechter warned against sharing books and supplies between students. The district’s chief academics officer, Maria Izquierdo, said the district will be asking teachers to limit sharing of materials.
Temperature checks will not be required to enter school buildings. Parents will be encouraged to keep students at home if they show any signs of illness. A student would only receive a temperature check if they arrive at school appearing ill.
The school district is also searching for a data management “early warning system” for contact tracing. Carvalho said all privacy laws will be followed.
Dr. Aileen Marty, professor of medicine and infectious disease at Florida International University, said sections of the plan need to be more carefully looked at, like COVID-19 spread in bathrooms. She said children who are overweight are also at a higher risk.
In response to Segal’s question about delaying the start of school, Marty said: “We are right now having percent positive…We’re right now at 18%. We didn’t want to do reopenings if we were above 10. That was the original plan and the real desire was to be below 5% in terms of percent positive. We’re at 18. That’s extremely alarming, and so we do have to be very, very, cautious in exactly which way we reopen when we reopen.”