FORT LAUDERDALE (CBSMiami) – In just about two weeks, Broward County Public Schools will start the new school year and it will look very different from years past.

Due to the pandemic, students will start the year on August 19th with eLearning, taking classes online.

During his State of the District Address on Monday, Broward Superintendent Robert Runcie said there were several areas that are being addressed including food insecurity and the digital divide.

“Sixty-five percent of the children attending Broward County Public Schools qualify for free or reduced meals. For many children, our public schools are the only reliable place for them to receive two nutritious meals, breakfast and lunch each day,” he said.

Runcie said when they closed campuses in March, schools became the lifeline for so many in the community.

“We continue to distribute food from our local school sites and have served over two and a half million meals to students and families since mid-March,” he said.

As for the digital divide, Runcie said the district took action to help those families who may have lacking the necessary tools.

“I am proud of what we’ve done to address the digital divide and digital inequities by distributing more than 100,000 laptop computers to any student who needs one, offering discounted internet services to families and free mobile hotspots to students with housing instability,” said.

Runcie said they know that eLearning will never by a substitute for face to face learning but they will try to make it better.

“We will work to make the eLearning environment, personal, we’re going to work to make sure that it’s engaging. It’s interesting, it’s challenging and it’s fulfilling,” he said.

“I think you will have teachers more comfortable with nline learning and I think flexibility for elementary, K through 5, where we will have an evening and a morning session to accommodate parents,” he added.

The superintendent also said through their home library initiative for pre-K through second grade students, the district distributed 48,000 book packs, where each book pack included five books, a family guide, and a student journal. That’s 240,000 books that were delivered to the homes of our students and families in May and June.

Runcie said they would love to have students back in the classroom but now is not the time.

“Science should drive decision making on safely reopening schools. Public health agencies must make recommendations based on evidence, not politics. Currently, violent infection rates in Florida are extremely high with a rolling average of 14.2% of test positive for new infections over the past two weeks. Public health experts and infectious disease physicians almost universally recommend that children not go to school until the positive test rate is in the range of three to five percent over a rolling two-week average. If children go to school with such high infection rates, schools will be forced to close very quickly after opening, and many children and families will likely become ill with COVID-19. We agree with these recommendations. Our local test positivity rate is still averaging around 13 to 15 percent, which is almost three to five times the recommended range,” he said.

Runci said the only way the district will be able to open our school buildings is when the community has lowered the number of COVID-19 cases.

“It will require each and every one of us to make a collective sacrifice to contain community spread of COVID-19 by wearing masks, by physical distancing, and by washing hands. Otherwise, like other schools and camps we’ve seen in the news lately, we may open and then we may have to close if there are outbreaks and that community infection rate continues to climb. We must recognize that we are all in this together. All of our actions and behaviors. They’re interconnected and together, during this most challenging time, we must set an example for our kids and for each other,” he said.

“When conditions improve, and we hope that it will not be into the far distant future, additional options will be introduced. We’ll have face to face learning five days per week. We’ll also offer a hybrid or blended model with staggered school days with part-time on campus and part-time eLearning connected to your neighborhood school, and will also offer continued eLearning connected to the student’s homeschool,” he added.

Runcie said he understands that the last few months have been difficult parents and caregivers, as they worry not only about their child’s education and development, but also deal with job loss and instability, food insecurity, family and friends with health challenges, and a climate of fear and anxiety about what next week will bring.

“I continue to extend my gratitude to our parents and guardians for your patience and support as you navigate this uncharted journey with us. It has also been an enormously challenging time for our teachers, many of whom are also parents and are struggling to each of our administrators, teachers, education, support professionals, food service workers, facility service persons, and all staff. Thank you for your support. Thank you for your help. Thank you for your understanding and patience. And thank you for all your hard work, commitment, and dedication to our young people.”

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