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Broward Weighs Piloting In-Person Classes For Some Students With Disabilities

Broward County Public Schools Superintendent Robert Runcie delivered an update on his plan for students with disabilities in this video message on Aug. 3, 2020.
Broward County Public Schools Superintendent Robert Runcie delivered an update on his plan for students with disabilities in this video message on Aug. 3, 2020.

Broward County Public Schools is considering a controversial pilot to reopen school buildings for in-person classes for some students with disabilities while all other students continue learning virtually.

Students with disabilities are among those who struggle the most under remote learning, since they’re not always able to get the specialized attention and therapies they need to thrive. In an effort to mitigate those negative effects, Superintendent Robert Runcie initially proposed allowing some students with special needs to return to campuses three days a week.

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On Tuesday, Runcie announced he has scaled back that proposal as the COVID-19 pandemic rages in South Florida. Instead, he’s recommending a voluntary pilot program at a few schools. If that effort moves forward and is considered successful, it would be expanded to accommodate more students with disabilities for in-person classes.

The district has not yet finalized the details of how the pilot would work, including how many days per week students would be in schools. Runcie said the classes would start no sooner than Aug. 31. The planned first day of virtual learning for all students is Aug. 19.

The recommendation will be part of the district’s reopening plan, which has not yet been finalized. The school board will discuss it further during an Aug. 10 meeting.

“I have … directed staff to work on the possibility of establishing a pilot at a limited number of schools, if we can find staff and families of students with disabilities who are willing to participate,” Runcie said in a video message to the school board Tuesday morning.

"This pilot effort will allow us to better learn and understand the issues and challenges which may come up and how we can mitigate them,” he said. “From this effort, and hopefully with improved pandemic conditions, we will be able to consider expanding school-based instruction for these particular students with disabilities.”

Runcie said he formulated his plan with the input of “several dozen” special education teachers.

Broward Teachers Union President Anna Fusco denounced the proposal during Tuesday morning’s virtual school board meeting, arguing that students with disabilities are some of the district’s most medically vulnerable. Her union and others representing school administrators and employees are planning a press conference Wednesday to further discuss their opposition.

Fusco said teachers understand that students with disabilities need extra help they can get only at school.

“Nobody’s denying that they need it. Every child needs to be in a school setting, in a classroom setting,” she said during the meeting. “But no child should be put under some type of situation or condition that they might get deathly sick and die.”

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