‘Not good enough:’ Miami teachers, School Board members push for clearer COVID protocol

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Miami Herald | by Colleen Wright | November 19, 2020

A COVID-19 parent handbook. Better notification of COVID-19 cases. A review of COVID-19 related procedures for identification, notification, quarantine and testing.

Nine months into the coronavirus pandemic, and two months since Miami-Dade County Public Schools reopened, School Board members on Wednesday successfully passed those proposals as teachers and parents continue to plead for clarity on how the school district manages through the pandemic.

“Uniformity and continuity as well as clarity is what is needed so that everyone in our district will be able to be the winners,” said board member Mari Tere Rojas, who proposed that the district create a manual on COVID-19 guidelines and procedures, as well as a handbook for parents in English, Spanish and Haitian Creole.

Vice chair Steve Gallon asked for a complete review of how the district has dealt with COVID-19. Board member Dorothy Bendross-Mindingall’s proposal asked for a standard written notification protocol and for the public reporting of how many students and staff are quarantining.

“This pandemic has become a new norm for everyone, and being informed by our School District with accurate and timely information is extremely important,” Bendross-Mindingall wrote in her item. “Under-reporting of these very important COVID-19 cases is beyond unacceptable.”

There was a larger than usual showing from the United Teachers of Dade at Wednesday’s School Board meeting showing support for these proposals. The union’s executive board members, all working teachers, spoke out about inconsistent procedures to notify, report and quarantine amid a positive COVID case.

There was no talk of closing schools, which New York City has done, as Miami-Dade’s positivity rate climbed to 9.21% Wednesday with 1,685 new cases. The district’s COVID-19 dashboard reflects self-reported employee cases and student cases only confirmed by the Florida Department of Health, but teachers and parents have complained that the dashboard lags sometimes more than a week behind.

School district officials instead gave a presentation on the academic and financial impacts of COVID-19. Superintendent Alberto Carvalho pointed to the issue of grade inflation, with more A grades given to students this academic quarter compared to the 2019-20 school year, though there are also more D and F grades given this quarter.

District officials also pointed to significantly increased rates of students who are absent 10 or more days in the first grading period, particularly among middle and high school students who opted to return to school for in-person learning.

As for financials, the district’s chief financial officer, Ron Steiger, said the district is in for a $64 million loss because its 2020-21 enrollment in traditional public schools is down 8,698 students, from an already lower projection. Additionally, 6,185 students in traditional public schools were withdrawn from Aug. 27 to Sept. 24.

“The loss is coming,” Steiger said. “The question really is when and how.”

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The Miami-Dade public school district’s online dashboard tracking COVID-19 cases on Friday, Nov. 13, 2020, reflected 548 students and staff who’ve tested positive since in-person learning began Oct. 5, 2020. MIAMI-DADE PUBLIC SCHOOLS

Main photo: Miami Beach middle and high school students are cautiously optimistic about returning to in-person classes during the coronavirus pandemic. BY MATIAS J. OCNER