CSCS Board of Directors vote on a return to school plan

Yesterday, the CSCS Board of Directors met over Zoom to clarify ​details discussed in last week’s board meeting​ and to cast their votes for a return to school. Those in attendance included Principal Gary Springer, the Coral Springs City Commission, Deputy City Manager Melissa Heller, as well as Charter teachers Rachal Garris and Michael Singer. Also in attendance was Dr. Peter Antevy, who served as a medical advisor for the board.

Thinking Skills teacher and Cheerleading coach Rachal Garris spoke during the introduction of the meeting, voicing her support for the return to physical instruction. Garris cited the effects of e-learning on the mental health of students and teachers in her statement. “Many of [the students] have expressed fatigue from being on Zoom and their computers all day, and in all honesty, I’ve experienced it as well.” said Garris.

Many of [the students] have expressed fatigue from being on Zoom and their computers all day, and in all honesty, I’ve experienced it as well.

— Rachal Garris

Government and Economics teacher Michael Singer made a statement following Garris’. Singer made it clear that he was impartial on the return to school. “I am not here to advocate for either side. I come before you as a representative for both sides.” said Singer. He went on to say that the return should be thought of as an experiment. “Give them 30 days, and if there is no spike in cases of teachers getting sick, then we reopen,” Singer said. “But if there are problems, then we can look back and savor this moment of sober contemplation.”

Give them 30 days, and if there is no spike in cases of teachers getting sick, then we reopen, but if there are problems, then we can look back and savor this moment of sober contemplation.

— Michael Singer

Following the statements from Garris and Singer, Board Member Melissa Heller went on to explain the reasoning behind the school’s reopening date of October 14th. Heller cited an email from the Director of Charter Schools Management and Support at BCPS Donté Fulton-Collins. She said “We can pick a date that is before October 20th, but we can not pick a date that is later.” The email went on to clarify that the date was contingent on the Broward County reopening plan and the start date of the second quarter. “Once the governor declared that Broward County moved to Phase 2 of reopening, then schools could offer brick and mortar instruction that was approved in the reopening plan. The date indicated in the district’s approved plan is October 20th, which is the start of quarter two.”

Heller also made it clear that the school’s funding was tied to attendance. “Were we to not have students physically present, or have the option of having students physically present, no later than October 20th, it is possible that all our revenue could be withheld.” said Heller. Heller specified that “It would be the count for the first half of the year, it would essentially be at least a quarter and probably more of the revenue, which is a deficit that the Charter Schools Fund does not have in its balance to cover.” In terms of the actual amount of money that would be, South Florida Area Director at Charter Schools USA Rachel Windler-Freitag said it could be “approximately 5 million dollars.”

Principal Gary Springer expressed his perspective on the loss funding that would occur if students would not return by the 20th. “The reality is we will lose funding. The state has already ruled on this in the courts. It has already been determined, hence the reason why Palm Beach Schools are already open.” said Springer.

Springer also announced that 38 percent of students would be returning to school according to the choice survey. It should be noted that at the time of this statement, there were 1,506 surveys submitted out of the 1,676 total. According to Springer, “[38 percent of students] provides us well below the 60 percent that we are capable of handling within the social distancing guidelines set forth through the City of Coral Springs, Florida Department of Health, and CDC.” said Springer.

For families who do initially choose the virtual option, Springer said they would be able to choose again before Thanksgiving. “We would be looking at a return on November 30th, if those families choose to send them at that point in time.” said Springer.

In a follow up question, City Commissioner Larry Vignola asked Springer to clarify “If a family goes ahead and sends their kid to school and they want to back out, they can back out, it’s just if you’re remote you can’t opt in.” Springer confirmed that this is the case.

Springer then expressed his optimism towards the reopening to the board. “I think our focus too much is always on the negative while we need to be cautious. We also need to say that there are a lot of good things that can come out of this,” said Springer. “And one of them is our level of preparedness and being able to receive students back on campus.”

In response, Vignola said “I don’t like the comments of focusing on the negative, I think we’re focusing on the reality. And I think the reality of this virus is that it is going to spread whenever any time people are in close contact with one another.” Vignola voiced his specific concerns about mask policy. “I see the vented masks and things where the ​CDC say that should not count as a face covering​.” said Vignola. “I’d like some clarification from our safety team who have been working with you guys to create a mask safety policy.”

Vignola also expressed concern over whether or not social distancing would be enforced after students are released at the end of the school day. In response, Springer said “We’re definitely staffed to where we can provide supervision both inside and outside. I can tell you that the inside is going to be cleaned out really quick, and then we’re going to shift those personnel outside to make sure that also takes place.”

As the meeting moved toward the final vote, Commissioner Simmons voiced his frustrations with the state of COVID-19 in Florida. “We shouldn’t be here…we should have been able to open up at the beginning of the school year.” said Simmons. “But people, because they decided to allow political agendas, naivety, and lack of care for their fellow neighbor, people went out and just didn’t care enough.”

Simmons, who is a History teacher at Coral Springs High, went on to point out how Charter teachers are unable to unionize, and that it is the responsibility of the Board of Directors to act in their best interests. “I’ve talked about the protection of teachers, and especially with the teachers at Charter, because they don’t have a union,” said Simmons. “They don’t have someone speaking up for them. Yeah, you have teachers with different angles and thoughts speaking today and I get it, but there are a lot of folks who don’t speak, or don’t feel like they have the power to speak up, so that’s where we step in.“

Simmons voted in favor of the return to school.

Dr. Peter Antevy requested that the school have some system in place to report the infection rate of students and teachers within the school. Springer confirmed that there was a system of that nature in place, saying “As noted in the place it just speaks to informing the city and making them aware of what we’re doing.”

In the end, the board decided in a 4-1 decision to follow the BCPS guidelines in the return to school and set a return date of October 14th. “I am in support of going with the county’s agenda and plan and I will be doing a lot of praying that I made the right choice and that everybody stays safe.” said Commissioner Carter.