At the beginning of March, spring break was right around the corner for Brevard Public Schools (BPS), with 5,000 teachers and 66,000 students looking forward to a week of fun and relaxation. The same day school was set to adjourn for the break, Gov. Ron DeSantis announced statewide school closures until March 30 in response to COVID-19. At that time, no one could have predicted weeks would turn into months, resulting in the school year culminating through distance learning.

School Closed

With only two weeks’ advance notice, it took extraordinary effort to pull together elementary and secondary curriculums and to prepare instructional staff to transition from the classroom to remote teaching. BPS’ Educational Technology team worked feverishly on what remote learning would look like for the 11th largest school district in the state. In under two weeks, more than 15,000 district devices and over 2,000 hotspots (remote Wi-Fi connectivity) were dispersed to students and households that lacked the resources to participate in online learning, in addition to over 1,200 pencil and paper packets distributed for younger grade levels with similar accessibility challenges and students with varying accommodations.

Out of an abundance of caution, BPS transitioned some 1,000 non-instructional employees to remote work and reduced on-site staffing at its facilities to less than 30-percent capacity. More than 600 Food and Nutrition Services workers dispersed to 27 school campuses providing over 225,000 meals weekly to families in need. At press time, the district received permission to continue food distribution at 15 of sites through June 30. In addition, bus drivers are delivering over 300 meals a day to BPS students-in-transition (homeless students).

The pivot was real: parents became homeschool teachers while juggling full-time jobs remotely, teachers adjusted to assisting students from afar and the community stepped up to bridge the gap to keep students learning and provided for through the end of the 2020 school year.

The Class of 2020

Graduation celebrations may look different than ever before, but one thing is for sure – this year’s graduating class will not be forgotten. During the month of May, high schools across Brevard found unique ways to honor graduating seniors. From socially distanced car parades, to celebratory yard signs, the community came out to celebrate the Class of 2020. Community partner, Clear Channel Outdoor, donated space on 16 billboards throughout Brevard the week graduations were originally scheduled to be held in May. Brightly lit messages of well wishes and support were visible from Cocoa to Palm Bay.

“Since traditional graduation ceremonies weren’t able to be executed this year, we wanted to cheer on the Class of 2020. We thank Brevard Public Schools for allowing us to be part of this untraditional, but very important send-off to the BPS seniors, and wish them many successes in the future,” said Clear Channel General Manager, Matt Brandt.

Eyan Easter, a graduating senior from Edgewood Jr./Sr. High School, shared his perspective.

“Graduating in the year 2020 was definitely interesting and challenging, but I try to find the good in the challenges we all faced. It was very heartwarming and uplifting to see the efforts the schools and the student body put towards making sure our senior year was the best it could be.” He said.

At the time of press, BPS was planning to hold graduation ceremonies for its 5,000 seniors the week of July 18-25, pending the status of COVID-19 restrictions.

Preparing for a ‘New Normal’

In careful preparation and consideration of reopening schools in the fall, district Superintendent Mark Mullins, Ed.D., assembled a 14-person cross-functional task force of academic and operational district leaders and Brevard County Department of Health medical professionals. The team will focus on four key areas to safely reopen schools: student and staff health and safety, educational enrichment, social/emotional wellbeing and operational sustainability, with the health and safety of students and employees at the forefront of all considerations.

“It is clear the impacts of COVID-19 are consistently evolving, but we are moving ahead to proactively plan for every likely reopening scenario. We are following the guidance of the Governor and CDC, as well as direction from the Florida Department of Education,” Mullins said.

“Throughout this process, we will continue to operate in a transparent manner and keep our community informed as we reach major milestones.”

BPS’ Re-Opening Task Force is using the capacity of its resource teachers to collect feedback from Pre-K through Grade-12 classroom teachers, in addition to those responsible for Exceptional Education, athletic directors, JROTC, Career & Technical Education, and more. In early June, the task force launched a public feedback web site to gather input from families, employees and the community at-large. Within four days of activating the site, more than 5,000 responses had been received. The district plans to share all of them.

Cleanliness and Safety Measures

As the largest employer in Brevard County, BPS maintains 100 buildings, 83 of them school campuses.

Since school closures in March, district custodial staff have dispersed to all sites for cleaning, disinfecting and consistent sanitation efforts. In addition to increasing these measures, BPS began procuring personal protective equipment in preparation to re-open. Many day-to-day activities are being reimagined, such as busing students to and from school, classroom structure, daily meals, hundreds of students navigating campuses and more.

Throughout this historic time, Brevard Public Schools is one of more than 13,500 school districts in the U.S. faced with mapping a new normal for public education. Each district is moving forward with guidance and direction from state and local officials, likely with the same goal in mind – to serve every student with excellence. As BPS moves forward through uncharted territory, it remains committed to preserving the health and safety of students and staff without compromise. •

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