WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — Top officials in Palm Beach County will meet on Monday to start discussions on how to safely reopen brick-and-mortar schools once the county enters Phase Two of Florida's reopening plan.
"From my personal perspective, it's time to look to Phase Two and see how that may look in the future," said Mayor Dave Kerner at a news conference on Friday afternoon.
Kerner said that on Monday, he and County Administrator Verdenia Baker will meet with Superintendent Dr. Donald Fennoy and School Board Chairman Frank Barbieri, Jr. to discuss operational plans for reopening brick-and-mortar schools.
"It's important that we start to work together as a county to look at, how do we open up schools and how do we open up Phase Two businesses?" Kerner said.
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The 2020-21 academic year for the School District of Palm Beach County is scheduled to begin on Monday, Aug. 31 with all students taking part in distance learning from home.
Under the plan, "once Palm Beach County moves from Phase 1 to Phase 2 of recovery, students in early learning programs can physically return to District-operated schools if their parents so choose."
That means once brick-and-mortar schools reopen, parents can choose whether to send their students back or continue to keep them at home.
"The results are starting to pay off, and that means we can start to think about getting our kids back to school safely," Kerner said.
Kerner said he's spoken with Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis twice this week about Palm Beach County potentially entering Phase Two.
"Ultimately, he's the decision maker," Kerner said. "It's critically and only the governor's decision to move us into Phase Two."
At Friday's news conference, Kerner said Palm Beach County has extended its face mask mandate, which requires everyone to wear a face covering inside all public buildings, as well as outside when social distancing is not possible or not being practiced, until at least Sept. 22.
In addition, vacation and short-term rentals can resume.
According to the latest numbers from the Florida Department of Health, there are 40,157 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Palm Beach County, along with 1,048 deaths.
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Palm Beach County leaders on Friday also provided an update on their preparations for Tropical Storm Laura, which could impact our weather in South Florida early next weekend.
Bill Johnson, the county's emergency management director, urged all residents to remain vigilant and closely monitor Laura's forecast over the weekend.
Currently, all of Palm Beach County is out of the forecast cone, and most computer models keep Laura south of the Florida peninsula.
"One slight movement in the track to the east can dramatically increase the rain and wind impacts to our county," Johnson said.
Officials added that, at this point, they are not ordering evacuations or opening emergency shelters.
"We're very thankful that, obviously, that it looks like the worst will miss Palm Beach County," Kerner said.