Palm Beach County school leaders layout plans for fall semester

School district plans return to in-person learning this fall
Dr. Donald Fennoy speaks at an April 15, 2021 fall semester update
Posted at 10:58 AM, Apr 15, 2021
and last updated 2021-04-15 17:21:44-04

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — Parents and students in Palm Beach County learned more Thursday about what the next school year will look like during a community update held by district leaders.

SPECIAL COVERAGE: State of Education

Thursday's meeting provided updates on the plans to return to brick and mortar schools on Aug.10 including:

  • Efforts to assist struggling students
  • Summer academies, health and safety protocols
  • Federal funding and COVID expenses
  • School-based and district staffing
  • School safety

"While many major decisions have already been made, the school board, the superintendent and his leadership team, are constantly evaluating pandemic conditions, the academic and emotional needs of our students, financial considerations and other critical factors which must be considered while we finalize our plans," Palm Beach County School District Chief of Staff Ed Tierney said.

Superintendent Donald Fennoy announced last week that a full return to campus-based learning is anticipated in the fall.

"A full return to brick and mortar this fall is anticipated, and I believe it is in the best interest of our students and staff," Superintendent Dr. Donald Fennoy said in a written statement last Friday.

Palm Beach County school leaders discuss plans for fall semester

The decision will end the hybrid education that has taken place since the school year began last fall.

The superintendent said Thursday the district's WiFi Mesh Network in its first phase will provide free high-speed internet access to more than 25,000 students.

Given the challenges over the last year because of the pandemic, Fennoy was adamant about helping students recover from the obstacles they have encountered.

"The district is committed to equity and access to a higher quality education for every student," Fennoy said. "We are committed to the social and emotional health of every student."

The district said extensive learning opportunities will be available this summer for unfinished learning.

Deputy Superintendent Keith Oswald said there was a 13 percent increase in the number of students failing a core course, likely a result of online learning.

"This decision to move back to getting all students to brick and mortar [learning] is critical for the success of our students," Oswald said.

The deputy superintendent said parents can sign up their children for Palm Beach Virtual School if they are not interested in traditional in-person learning.

Palm Beach County School District Chief Financial Officer Mike Burke
Palm Beach County School District CFP Mike Burke says schools will receive about $166 million in federal funds over the next three years.

Chief Financial Officer Mike Burke said the district will spend about $1 million to fix broken computers and equipment.

Burke said the Palm Beach County School District will receive about $500 million through the federal American Rescue Plan over the next three years, calling it a "significant boost."

Leaders are setting up a series of workshops and meetings to outline how the funds will be used.

Florida Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran sent a letter to school district superintendents throughout the state urging them to eliminate their current face mask mandates.

However, Oswald said Thursday the plan right now is to keep the school mask mandate in place for public schools in Palm Beach County, but they will monitor the situation.

School Mask Mandate Survey

A recent survey was conducted with more than 3,000 public school educators in Palm Beach County.

The survey found that 68.9 percent of educators believe the current on-campus mask mandate should remain in effect at the start of fall semester for both students and employees.

The survey also found that 56.9 percent of educators believe instructors on campus who have received a COVID-19 vaccine should be allowed to remove their mask temporarily while engaging in instruction.

Classroom Teachers Association President Justin Katz released the following statement on the survey:

"I believe that this type of decision needs to be made closer to the start of the next school year because as conditions evolve and improve month by month, we do understand that many parents and students may oppose mandating masks into the future.

With the conclusion of remote learning and the full return to brick and mortar anticipated for next school year, this is a discussion with multiple sides that must be examined and taken seriously. We do not want large numbers of students to abandon their return to our campuses if a mask mandate is objectionable to them and would lead them to seek out alternative and inferior educational options outside of the SDPBC."