Op-Ed

Miami-Dade Public Schools steps up to fill community-wide needs during COVID-19 crisis | Opinion

We, as a community, are facing extraordinarily trying circumstances. Yet, before us lies an unprecedented opportunity to demonstrate exactly who we are and what our community is made of. We have shown our resilience by rising above challenges created by this global coronavirus pandemic with our ability to plan and adapt.

Despite the current situation, I hope everyone was able to rest over the Spring Recess and will approach the return to learning via distance education with renewed focus and energy. Because of COVID-19, remote instruction has become a necessity for the foreseeable future. Now more than ever, we must reinforce our dedication to the education of our children using innovative tools.

Since the announcement of school closures, Miami-Dade County Public Schools (M-DCPS) has distributed more than 56,000 mobile devices to students who need them. We will continue device distribution for as long as it takes to ensure equity in access to learning from home.

Miami-Dade’s teachers will continue facilitating at-home education of students, utilizing our Instructional Continuity Plan (ICP), a standards-aligned guide providing the framework for this new shift in teaching and learning. It was developed to ensure that while school facilities are closed, children can continue with their program of instruction, largely uninterrupted so that they can finish out the school year, remotely, if necessary.

Reflecting upon the first week of distance learning and considering the feedback from all stakeholders, including parents and teachers, we continue to refine the implementation of this new distance education model. We will soon launch ICP 2.0, which will provide additional instructional support for students and their families in hopes of reducing some of the stress that understandably accompanies new and different ways of doing things.

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The School Board has provided steady leadership during this difficult time, and our labor partners have also stepped forward, working with us as we go farther and faster than any district has gone before into the realm of total distance learning. We know we are asking a lot, but we also know our community of educators and our remarkable students are up to the challenge.

We know that parents and caregivers have many demands on their time as they are suddenly faced with a myriad of changes brought on by this pandemic. And yet, we are confident that they will do all they can to help facilitate their child’s new home learning environment, in partnership with their teachers.

And we understand that our workforce, many of whom are parents themselves, have the same concerns we all do. Despite these concerns, Miami-Dade’s educators have characteristically embraced the responsibility of serving as a beacon of stability and guidance for their students in these unsettling times. These teachers are joining our brave healthcare workers and first responders as heroes during this pandemic and I, along with the School Board, am grateful for their service.

We know that nothing over the next several weeks is likely to feel normal. We know that adjusting to some of these teaching methods may take longer for some, and that some have more mastery in using technology than others.

No matter where you stand, please don’t give up. We are here to support you as you demonstrate grace, compassion, patience, and understanding.

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We will do our part, not only in delivering the framework, tools, and training to educate our 350,000 students, but in providing community support. More than 73 percent of our students receive free or reduced-price lunch, in many cases receiving their only meals at school. Thus far, we distributed 200,000 meals and assisted our partners with food distribution over Spring Recess. Beginning March 30, we will resume distribution of meals at dozens of school sites, for as long as there is need.

As our community’s largest employer, we have a responsibility to provide for our employees. During this shutdown, we are compensating all full-time and permanent part-time personnel, as well as providing financial support to regularly scheduled hourly personnel who might not otherwise receive payment while schools are closed.

There is no question our medical heroes also need help. We are partnering with the YMCA to provide childcare for essential medical personnel from Jackson Health and University of Miami Health systems, enabling them to focus on their life-saving missions.

We will continue to provide the latest information on all of our initiatives, including our Employee Assistance Program and mental health support for students and families, at covid19.dadeschools.net.

Throughout it all, our promise to this community is that we at M-DCPS will continue to provide support — now and in the future. We are all in this together. In Miami-Dade, we are stronger together.

Alberto M. Carvalho is the superintendent of Miami-Dade County Pubilc Schools.

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