After a 29-hour marathon meeting that included 18 hours of public testimony, the Miami-Dade County School Board voted Tuesday to start welcoming students back in mid-October with a staggered return for five-days-a-week instruction.

Miami-Dade, the fourth-largest school district in the country, had started the school year last month with all-remote learning. It was one of only a handful of systems in the state given permission to do so by Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis because of exceptionally high coronavirus rates.

The Board of Education began meeting on Monday to decide when to reopen school buildings, taking up a recommendation by Superintendent Alberto Carvalho’s administration to begin a staggered opening in early October.

The meeting spilled over into Tuesday, and after 18 hours of public testimony from more than 750 people and more hours of debate, the board voted unanimously to start opening schools on Oct. 14, more than a week later than first proposed by Carvalho. According to the plan, the first students to return will be those in pre-kindergarten, kindergarten, first grade and those with special needs – and the rest will be back by Oct. 21.

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The district had surveyed parents recently to ask whether they preferred in-school or remote learning for their children, and 51% chose the former. It does not appear that hybrid arrangements will be allowed.

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There are still some caveats to the plan: Medical experts must provide approval to the school board before the reopening, and the superintendent must show that there is adequate personal protective equipment and other resources in schools to allow for a safe opening.

“We need to be very, very sure, or very, very careful, that we have crossed all the t’s and dotted all of the i’s,” board member Perla Hantman said during the meeting. “We need to be very sure this is not a rushed thing.”

The school board’s meeting was held virtually – unlike that of the Broward County Board of Education, which met in person Tuesday to decide when to reopen schools. Broward, the second-largest district in Florida, had also started remotely with permission from DeSantis because of high coronavirus rates.

At its 11 1/2-hour meeting, Broward school board members approved a plan to reopen some schools starting on Oct. 14, with the rest on Oct. 20.

“We can’t let perfect stand in the way of good,” the Sun-Sentinel quoted Superintendent Robert Runcie as saying. “There’s no way to guarantee we’ll have a 100% covid-free environment.” Covid-19 is the disease caused by the novel coronavirus.

Miami-Dade has had a rough start to the school year, even with an all-remote opening. On the first day of school in August, the online platform crashed; it had been purchased for $15.3 million by Carvalho’s administration from the for-profit company K12 Inc. Problems included software glitches, network outages and cyberattacks for which a 16-year-old was arrested.

Continued problems led the school board – after a meeting lasting some 13 hours, with 400 speakers – to end the contract about two weeks after school started.

(Jennifer Luxton / The Seattle Times)

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