School Board Ponders How To Re-Open As The New Year Looms

The Palm Beach County School Board has not yet reached a decision on what the coming school year will look like due to the COVID-19 pandemic. But board members agreed at a Wednesday, July 1 workshop, which followed a series of regional workshops, that it will not be a normal school year.

The board has also not agreed on what the teaching model will look like. Superintendent Dr. Donald Fennoy will make a final recommendation at the school board’s regular meeting on Wednesday, July 15, although he reminded board members that conditions have been changing by the day.

The school board has been pondering three teaching options: a return to in-person school with social distancing, a completely remote learning scenario and a hybrid combination that includes some in-person school sessions in shifts.

Results of a recent survey were fairly evenly distributed between the three models, with many respondents supporting more than one method of teaching the county’s students.

School board members were also wary of returning to school sessions on the scheduled start date of Monday, Aug. 10.

“I still feel that Aug. 10 is premature,” School Board Member Sharon Brill said. “I think that we could start fine-tuning the distance piece, the virtual piece, on Aug. 10 with the training of parents and teachers. I’m not committed to saying that we’re not going to open up at all, because I do think that we may have to have different tracks for certain people.”

Brill favored returning after Labor Day, as other districts are planning.

Fennoy said that school district staff is analyzing the survey responses of more than 85,000 parents and staff.

“The input is being seriously considered as the district makes final decisions, narrowing down our re-opening options,” he said, adding that the district’s re-opening task force will share the in-depth findings of the surveys at a virtual workshop on July 8.

School Board Member Dr. Debra Robinson reminded other board members that the final decision would be up to them, noting that their decision must be based on science rather than popular opinion.

“We are not here to govern by applause,” Robinson said, “Let me be very clear; I am concerned about the children, but not just the children. We know that the risk of death is lower in children. We know that when children get infected, they have less severe symptoms as a general rule.”

However, she noted that Palm Beach County has tested 3,473 young people under the age of 18, and 24.9 percent of them were positive.

“That’s a high positivity rate,” Robinson said. “What we don’t know now is whether or not there will be any lingering effects on children who get infected with the virus. I’m going to hope not, but the new thing is the effect of mutations in this virus that increases the infectivity. We don’t know if more children will become infected, but even if more children don’t get infected, our children don’t live on a children-only island; they live with adults. I pray that they have numerous caring adults in their lives. Some of those caring adults are elderly or have underlying diseases. Some of them are their favorite teachers, who they will hug no matter how much social distancing we insist upon.”

Robinson favored starting with distance learning at some point in time, and hope that during the first semester, the pandemic numbers subside to the point that they could return to school, with numerous layers of caution, including cleaning of facilities and social distancing. “That will require a hybrid model,” she said.

More information about the school district’s plans are available at