Unusual School Year Kicks Off Monday With Distance Learning

Students in the Palm Beach County School District will begin the 2020-21 school year on Monday, Aug. 31 through distance learning initially due to COVID-19. However, there are plans to give students the option to return to physical classrooms eventually.

In a press conference Tuesday, Aug. 25, Palm Beach County School Superintendent Dr. Donald Fennoy introduced policies that will govern the format of the new school year.

“As you know, this will not be a typical year,” Fennoy said. “We are starting classes with distance learning. But please know, the school board and I are committed to re-opening our campuses as soon as it is safer to do so.”

When campuses re-open, parents will still have a choice whether to return their children to campus or remain with distance learning, Fennoy said.

“In the meantime, while we are still in distance learning, students will enjoy a more robust form of at-home instruction than they did in the spring,” he said. “Distance learning starting Aug. 31 will closely resemble in-person instruction.”

Teachers will meet with students live five days a week through Google Meet and Google Classroom with daily activities, and instructors will measure their progress and keep attendance records.

Fennoy said it is critical for parents to see that their contact information is up to date, explaining that the school district had sent e-mails to parents on Monday advising them how to check whether their information is current.

“Parents, the district recognizes the impact COVID-19 is having on our students,” he said. “In addition to academics, distance learning will include activities focused on social and emotional learning.”

The district will address needs related to behavioral and mental health online, by phone and in-person interaction provided by certified and bilingual school and family counselors, psychologists, and behavioral and mental health professionals.

“I encourage all parents and guardians to motivate your students to participate, and be patient with them, but also be patient with yourselves,” Fennoy said. “As an educator and as a father of two young children, I understand that this is a stressful time. Please know that your children’s teachers are here for you. I wish I could give you a perfect roadmap for how the months ahead will look, but the reality is that this pandemic is constantly evolving. Things are changing by the minute, the hour and the day, and we’re pivoting and making adjustments as necessary.”

He encouraged parents to read the electronic guidebook that was sent to them on Monday. Questions and answers are also available at www.palmbeachschools.org. A multilingual back-to-school helpline is open at (561) 969-5840.

Deputy Superintendent Keith Oswald said that many changes have been made since school ended in May, largely in response to several surveys sent out to parents that received thousands of responses. School will start with a regular bell schedule, followed by live remote teaching throughout the day.

“We learned a lot about student connectivity in this survey,” Oswald said. “School administrators have been busy deploying additional devices, as well as assisting families who are in need of internet connectivity.”

Oswald said that it is important for parents to make sure their child is registered.

“In addition, more than ever, it is critical that students’ immunization and shot records are up to date,” he said.