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Palm Beach County School Board pushes school start date to Aug. 31

Classes will begin virtually due to coronavirus
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Posted at 9:45 AM, Jul 22, 2020
and last updated 2020-07-22 23:45:50-04

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — The Palm Beach County School Board unanimously approved by a vote of 7-0 Wednesday to delay the start of the upcoming academic year by three weeks until Aug. 31.

Last week, the board decided the school year will begin virtually due to the recent surge in coronavirus cases in Florida.

Earlier in the week, Superintendent Dr. Donald Fennoy recommended the revised school year start date of Aug. 31. The previous start date for Palm Beach County public schools was Aug. 10.

The school district will now send its reopening plan to the Florida Department of Education for final approval. That plan must be submitted to the state by July 31.

SPECIAL COVERAGE: Back To School

"I'm also very happy with this calendar. I think it's wonderful. I like we are trying to push back the start date because I do think that gives us the time that we need to just make this time in virtual [learning] as amazing as we can, also for maybe the [coronavirus] numbers to even start coming down," board member Erica Whitfield said.

The school district said the new start date gives teachers more time to prepare for virtual learning and the distribution of laptops to students in need.

The change in the school calendar will not impact the pay of most school district employees.

However, the district said there will be a delay in the first paycheck for about 4,000 support staff employees, including bus drivers, bus attendants, school food service workers and paraprofessionals. Their salary won't be affected by the Aug. 31 start date, according to the district.

Under the new Palm Beach County school calendar, the Thanksgiving, winter and spring breaks will remain as previously scheduled.

The last day of school will be Friday, June 18, 2021.

When Will Students Return To In-Person Teaching?

During Wednesday's meeting, school board members debated when and which students would return to brick-and-mortar schools under phased reopening.

"We need to be able to understand what our true ability is based on teachers, students and spacing. That's what we really need to know," Whitfield said.

"We are going to have to be nimble about what we are doing," board member Karen Brill said.

Fennoy previously said last week that the reopening plan is fluid due to the nature of the virus.

Board Vice Chair Chuck Shaw said he wants the school district to already begin thinking about how students would be vaccinated against the virus.

"We're not sure where we're going to be in a few months, but I would like to suggest that staff begin conversations now with the health department to find out that if and when we get a vaccine ... that we consider allowing the health department to do the administration of the vaccines at school centers for staff and students," Shaw said.

Fennoy said the topic of vaccinating students was discussed Tuesday during a health advisory committee meeting and is on his agenda.

The school board said parents will receive a questionnaire on Monday regarding the return to in-person instruction for students.

RELATED: Superintendent issues message to parents after reopening plan approved

Parent Urges For Choice

While the meeting took place Wednesday night, parent Randy Maale sat at district headquarters and watched as it played out.

"Obviously a choice is a very logical thing to do, and for those that don't feel comfortable, sure then virtual learning is a great option. But for those who have special needs, who simply their needs can't be met virtually, than we need and option too," Maale said.

Maale has twin boys who are both on the autism spectrum.

"My hope for tonight is that we can reach a compromise that the school district is willing to take a look at that, to include all the ESE classes and anyone who has an IEP into phase two," Maale said.

Randy Maale
Randy Maale is the father of twin boys with special needs and wants the Palm Beach County School District to offer education options.

The only option the board voted on Wednesday night was based on distance learning to start the year, a phased return to campus and the adjusted start date.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said Wednesday he supports parents sending their children to either in-person classroom instruction or distance learning from home when the fall school year begins.

"Keeping schools closed will exacerbate existing achievement gaps between demographic groups, lead to more kids dropping out of school, disproportionally impact the least economically Floridians," DeSantis said.

To see the new calendar for the 2020-21 academic year in Palm Beach County, click here.