Palm Beach County public school leaders expect hundreds of students to be quarantined this year and are talking to teachers about how to respond.
Palm Beach Post | By Andrew Marra | August 5, 2021
With days to go before the school year begins, Palm Beach County public school leaders are scrambling to set up a way for students booted from campus for COVID-19 quarantines to listen in on their classes from home.
Virtual classes, a staple of the last school year, are not permitted this year at traditional public schools. But as coronavirus cases once again surge, hundreds of school district students are expected to contract the virus in the coming months, triggering mandatory quarantines of at least 10 days.
Students on quarantine will have excused absences and a chance to make up all missed schoolwork. But the prospect of hundreds of students missing weeks of classroom instruction has many educators worried about the long-term impacts on student achievement.
District hopes move will keep ailing students from falling far behind
School Board Chairman Frank Barbieri asked school district leaders at a board meeting Wednesday to consider having teachers with quarantined students turn on their classroom cameras so those students can informally follow the lessons online from home.
“We need to put in place something as soon as possible,” Barbieri said. “I can foresee children going home for a 10-day period of time and having no contact with their teacher other than getting the work sent to them.”
“We got the technology. We’ve got the know-how. We just need the buy -In.”MIKE BURKE, INTERIM SUPERINTENDENT, PALM BEACH COUNTY SCHOOLS
Interim Schools Superintendent Mike Burke pointed out that most of the district’s teachers already know how to work their classroom cameras, and he agreed to try to put a system into place. At a news conference Thursday, he said his administration was working to do so by the time classes begin Tuesday.
“We’ve got the technology,” he said. “We’ve got the know-how. We just need the buy-in.”
If the district moves ahead with the plan, teachers could volunteer to turn on their cameras when a student is at home on quarantine.
But to put in place a formal system obligating teachers to do so appears to require negotiating with the county teachers union, which on Thursday expressed skepticism about the proposal and its last-minute timing.
Teachers juggled helping students online, in classroom at one time
Among teachers’ concerns were the prospect of being recorded without their knowledge and asked to do extra tasks to accommodate students at home, said Justin Katz, president of the Palm Beach County Classroom Teachers Association.
Many teachers complained last year about the difficulties of attending to students in the classroom and watching online from home at the same time.
“Last year there was a tendency by school administrators to stretch the (agreement) governing blended learning past limits we ever envisioned,” Katz added. “So we are extremely hesitant to sign on for more working condition changes over fears of repeat overreaches.”
Another concern, Katz said, was the rushed nature of the new proposal.
“To alter working conditions days before instruction (begins) concerns us greatly,” he said.
Katz said the union reached out to district leaders months ago to ask if they intended to negotiate any new working conditions and were repeatedly told no.
“CTA inquired a few times so it didn’t become a last-minute thing like last year,” he said. “But until a week ago, the district had always maintained no (formal agreement) was necessary on their end and no working conditions from the previous (agreement) were anticipated to be needed.”
In the past two weeks, a worsening surge in coronavirus cases and the installation of a new superintendent have combined to trigger reconsideration of the district’s back-to-school plans.
Both Burke and Barbieri said their intention was not to make teachers go to any extra efforts to accommodate students watching from home, but to give those students a way to keep tabs on lessons to avoid falling too far behind.
“It seems to me that it’s a pretty simple situation to allow a limited number of children that are home on quarantine see what’s happening in the classroom,” Barbieri said. “At least let the kids see the lesson that the teacher is presenting to the classroom, so when they get their bundle of stuff at home, they at least have some clue of what they’re supposed to do with it.”
Even without a formal agreement with the union, Burke said he hoped many teachers would be willing to turn their cameras on voluntarily, throwing a lifeline to children shut out from their classrooms.