WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — Just days before students head back to brick-and-mortar schools in Palm Beach County, the superintendent of the school district wants to make sure parents, children, and staff members are well informed.
Dr. Donald Fennoy hosted a Facebook Live question and answer session Thursday evening. He was joined by Wanda Paul, the chief operating officer of the school district.
Fennoy said that according to the latest numbers, around 59,000 students are planning to return to brick-and-mortar schools when in-classroom instruction starts on Monday, Sept. 21, and around 80,000 students will continue distance learning at home.
"Adjustments will be made throughout this entire year just because of the realities of when COVID cases happen and when we have to quarantine people," Fennoy said.
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Students will return on Monday to spaced out desks in classrooms, one-way hallways, hand sanitizer stations throughout schools, and overflow rooms to reduce the capacity in classrooms.
"A lot of the ancillary materials in the classroom have been removed so that we can maximize all the space possible," Fennoy said.
Paul said Plexiglas dividers for teacher desks have been ordered and are coming in, and her team is working "around the clock" to install those dividers.
"Those are easy to just place on the desk," Paul said. "We're doing all of those recommendations from the CDC to make our kids and staff feel safer. And that's the goal, so we can get back to educating kids."
Face coverings must be worn by everyone on campus, both inside and outside, including during physical education and recess, according to Fennoy. Each individual school will set its own recess policies.
The superintendent said school nurses will have testing protocols for students who are experiencing symptoms of COVID-19. However, the school district does not yet have rapid COVID-19 testing.
"We will be supplying lists to our employees and our families of county-run [rapid COVID-19] testing facilities," Fennoy said. "It's still an evolving process as we continue on with COVID."
If a student of staff member shows symptoms of COVID-19 on a school campus, they'll be seen by a school nurse who will work with the Florida Department of Health to determine the course of treatment.
Fennoy said he expects more children to transition from distance learning to in-classroom instruction over the coming weeks as parents see how operations are running within the school district.
If your child plans to switch from distance to in-classroom learning, Fennoy said it will take about one week for the switch to happen.
The hot button issue of school employees who want to continue working remotely when brick-and-mortar schools reopen was also addressed in Thursday's Facebook Live.
Teachers who have medical conditions that they feel could put them at risk of contracting COVID-19 can apply for remote work by clicking here.
Fennoy said each employee who's approved by the school district's human resources department will be prioritized for remote work based on the severity of their medical conditions, and it will then be up to each individual school to assign those employees to a remote position.
"The school, they have to build their schedules, they build the framework for their building. So where they have those options available, the people at the top of the priority list go first," Fennoy said. "As time goes on, we might actually create some more opportunities once we figure out and get the steadfastness of the schools."
If a teacher is unable to secure a remote position through their school, Fennoy suggests they call the school district's human resources department for determine their options.
"They have leave. All of their leave protocols are still established," Fennoy said.
When it comes to riding school buses, Paul said all students and drivers will be required to wear masks, and drivers will sanitize the buses between routes.
"In terms of children riding the bus, they'll be spaced out appropriately," Paul said.
Conditioning will also begin on Monday for all fall sports including football, cross country, girls volleyball, swimming and diving, golf, bowling, and cheerleading. Fennoy said that students in both classroom and distance learning can take part in sports.
The School District of Palm Beach County has published answers on its website to many common questions regarding in-classroom instruction, health and safety within schools, as well as information for school employees and bus drivers. You can find those answers by clicking here.
SPECIAL SECTION: Back To School
During Wednesday night's school board meeting, board members expressed their support for Fennoy, despite the fact that the Palm Beach County Classroom Teachers Association is calling for his removal.
In-classroom instruction began for ESE (Exceptional Student Education) students on Wednesday, and will start for all other students on Monday, Sept. 21.
Ultimately, Fennoy is asking children, parents, and staff members to have patience as the school district navigates this unprecedented learning environment.
"There's high anxiety, there's high tension, there's high excitement," Fennoy said. "Be patient with us, ask the right questions as much as possible, be there for each other."