By Joan Murray

FORT LAUDERDALE (CBSMiami) — Broward County Public Schools will restart the new school year on August 19, and it will be online only due to the coronavirus pandemic.

But on Tuesday, during remarks to a special meeting of the county’s School Board on Tuesday, Superintendent Robert Runcie announced they are looking at the possibility of special needs students having some face-to-face learning, instead of 100 percent eLearning.

“I have directed staff to look at a pilot program if we can find students and teachers who are willing. It would start August 31,” said Runcie in response to some parents of special needs students who have complained that distance learning doesn’t work for their children.

“This pilot effort will allow us to better learn and understand the issues and challenges which may come up and how we can mitigate them from this effort, and hopefully with improved pandemic conditions, we will be able to consider expanding school-based instruction for these particular students with disabilities,” said Runcie.

The Broward Teachers Union, the Federation of Public and Private Employees, the Broward Principals’ and Assistants’ Association, and the Confidential Office Personnel Association are all against a proposed reopening of schools for face-to-face learning for Exceptional Students.

“Our ESE department of educators are scared,” said Broward Teachers Union President Anna Fusco. “They do not understand how they will be fully protected.”

Runcie said his staff spoke with teachers, school-based administrators, and those in the ESE work stream, and admits there are logistical challenges for providing limited in-person education.

“Last week on Thursday I culminated this effort through a conversation with several dozen of our ESE teachers. I truly believe we make the best decisions when we listen and work with our staff who are on the front lines and closest to the work,” he said.

“Although we heard about the many challenges of trying to do this work while meeting the expectations of CDC guidelines and the advice of public health experts, we were also encouraged by the innovative strategies, that when done well, have been used by our educators to successfully engage our students with disabilities,” he added.

Runcie said coronavirus infection in the county is still averaging above 10 percent which is significantly higher than the recommended range to consider reopening schools.

“I do not recommend open up our schools for onsite instruction on the first day of school for anybody,” he said.

At the same time, there are many Broward public school parents who remain upset they have been given no other option than distance learning.

“I’m disheartened the way they’ve pushed parents aside and say figure it out on your own,” said Cooper City parent Kim Tripido.

“There is an enormous challenge for parents who don’t think they can provide an adequate education for their children,” she said. “Largely there are teachers who want to come back.”

She says she’s looking at additional options for her son, who was being evaluated for special needs, but her daughter is being moved to private school.

“I know ten families who are doing the same and many haven’t budgeted for the additional cost,” she said.

To help out parents who have to work during the day, the district also plans to create afternoon and evening sessions to provide flexibility for families.

“This will also include counselors and academic support services. We will launch a focus Parent University to provide strategies and supports that we know many parents are struggling to support their children in this virtual method,” said Runcie.

The School Board will meet again on August 10th to discuss the final reopening plan.

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