Concerns Over Possible Plan to Bring ESE Students Back to Broward Schools

The Broward and Miami-Dade school districts agree that kids learn best in classrooms but the COVID-19 positivity rates are simply too high right now in South Florida to safely reopen the public schools.

Both Broward County Public Schools and Miami-Dade County Public Schools have already announced the next school year will begin virtually, with distance learning only. That includes special education students.

Kids who have autism, Down’s Syndrome or other challenges need more attention in school.

“Of course, everybody wants to be in a classroom, physically in a classroom, working with our students,” said Anna Fusco, president of the Broward Teacher’s Union. “But right now, it’s still not safe.”

So the BTU says it felt blindsided Tuesday when Broward Schools superintendent Robert Runcie announced a potential pilot program which could bring some Exceptional Student Education, or ESE, students back to school for in-person learning.

“If we can find staff and families of students with disabilities who are willing to participate to begin in-person instruction in schools no earlier than August 31st,” Runcie said Tuesday during the school board’s workshop meeting.

“Our major concern is the start date,” Fusco said.

Fusco called a virtual news conference today to talk about the issues involved with teaching ESE kids, alleging some teachers are already feeling compelled to volunteer.`

“So there were times where many people felt they were being pressured, forced, they didn’t have a choice,” Fusco said.

At the end of last school year, special education teachers did their best to reach ESE students through distance learning. Obviously, it’s not ideal, but the union has many concerns about bringing that population of kids back to classrooms during the pandemic.

“How many, what’s gonna be expected, how are the social distancing gonna tackle place, what’s the PPE? There’s still lots of questions that we’ve been asking all along,” said Fusco.

A Broward County Public Schools spokesperson said Tuesday that no teacher should feel pressured to take part in the pilot program. If it even comes together, it is strictly voluntary.

Meanwhile, at nearly the same time BTU was holding its virtual news conference, School Board chair Donna Korn held a joint online event with Broward County mayor Dale Holness. He said he would explore ways to use federal CARES Act funds to provide nurses at schools, and more.

“The other thing that is pointed out to us also is the need for day care and early learning centers to be supported, that’s really a critical area that not much focus is given to,” Holness said.

Child care, of course, is crucial for parents who need to work, especially with kids being home while schools are closed. They won’t open up, Runcie says, until the Covid19 positivity rate gets below 5% in Broward. That rate has been averaging around 10%, but seems to be inching down, so there’s hope that schools could reopen physically in time for the second marking period in late October.