First wave of scholars returns to school rooms at St John-Dade College – NBC 6 South Florida on Monday

What to know

  • More than 22,000 students returned to classrooms in St John-Dade County on Monday
  • Pre-K, kindergarten, and first graders were the first to return as part of a staggered reopening plan
  • Another 40,000 students are expected to return to classrooms on Wednesday. Another group starts on Friday

Students returned to classrooms in St John-Dade County on Monday for the first time since public schools closed in March due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Superintendent Alberto Carvahlo said around 22,000 students at over 300 schools in the county would be back on campus. He watched teachers and students participate in social distancing on campus.

“We were able to secure medical staff for every school on campus, which was not a mandate,” Carvahlo said at a press conference on Monday morning. “All employees have expressed their willingness to return to campus.”

Pre-K, Kindergarten, First Graders, and ESE students were the first to return on Monday. The other classes will return on a staggered schedule:

  • Wednesday October 7th: Grades 2-6 and 9-10
  • Friday October 9th: Grades 7-8 and 11-12

“When do you wear the masks? Always, that’s true, ”said Carvalho on Monday morning to a class of kindergarten teachers in the Andrea Castillo K8 preparatory school.

It was one of several schools that Carvalho attended.

“Our teachers were very excited here, we discussed the protocols with them, they were very satisfied with the protocols that we will follow here at school,” said Adolfo Costa, the headmaster.

Costa said his school is ready for COVID prevention measures such as spreading desks, signposting in hallways, wearing masks for everyone, and improved disinfection protocols.

“I’ve just seen the supervisors wiping the door handles and renovating the bathrooms in all the schools I’ve been to,” said Carvalho. “We didn’t find any problems.”

Carvalho said the county has substitute teachers and accommodation is being created for students with special needs.

School officials prepared campuses for social distancing, installed air filters, and ensured that school nurses and “medically trained staff” were present at each school. Each student is expected to receive a thermometer upon return to school.

Many teachers and parents have expressed concern about the willingness of the system to return to stationary schools, including student-teacher relationships, sanitation and masks. District officials say they are well prepared for the students to return.

Priscilla Roche, a teacher at Shenandoah Middle School, said she was prepared but nervous.

“Well, whether I’m ready or not, I have to be ready so I’m very nervous and scared, but I have faith and will just do the best I can,” said Roche.

Roche teaches sixth grade and she is also a mother. Their daughter returns to Kenwood K8 on Wednesday.

“I’m nervous as a teacher, I think I’m nervous as a mother too because I can’t be there to make sure my daughter wears her mask and doesn’t hug other students,” said Roche.

This is the final weekend before St John-Dade County’s public schools reopen. Friday was a mandatory day for teacher scheduling so each school was a beehive of activities with staff working to finish the buildings.

“It’s going to be absolutely challenging,” said Stevie Peacock, teacher-trainer at Madison Middle School.

Peacock showed NBC 6 some of the prep at her school and, like other teachers, she worries about the unknown. Nobody knows if the rules of social distancing and other measures are strictly enforced and followed.

“I think physically, yes, school is finished, it’s just that there is only so much you can do, right?” Peacock said.

The experts say the key to preventing school outbreaks lies in enforcing the rules.

“An increase is preventable due to our behavior. If we let people understand the importance of using the mask and use it consistently and properly, we can avoid a problem,” said Dr. Aileen Marty from the FIU.

Dr. Marty says she is concerned about whether the HVAC systems in older buildings are up to date for the pandemic era. The school district says every schoolhouse will be equipped with COVID-19 prevention measures before the kids come back.

Some other changes that have been made include:

  • All high school timetables will reset to 7 a.m. for both the schoolhouse model and remote learners starting Wednesday October 7th
  • Parents should receive a notification card in the mail to remind them which model they have chosen. Students should bring these cards with them in order to physically enter their school on the set return date
  • Some exceptions are made for parents who want to change their choices. If you are interested, please contact the school directly

Parents are also asked to conduct a daily health screening of their children prior to school, as detailed in the District Reopening Guide.

The start date for Monday was set by the school district after Florida Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran sent a letter the week before. In the letter, Corcoran said schools in St John-Dade and Broward Counties would have to reopen on October 5th or there is a risk of losing funding.

Originally, the school authorities of both districts had voted on a staggered reopening plan, which should begin on Wednesday, October 14th.

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