MIAMI (WSVN) - Miami-Dade County Public Schools and Broward County Public Schools will both temporarily close on Monday due to concerns over the coronavirus.

At a press conference Friday, just after 4 p.m., M-DCPS Superintendent Alberto Carvalho said, “We are now at a point of doing what is in the best interest of every single member of our community beginning with our children and our employees. Therefore, I am declaring an emergency closure of all schools for the week beginning March 16.”

Schools will remain closed throughout that week, which is followed by spring break.

“This declaration of emergency is for one week and one week only,” Carvalho said. “We shall revisit the timeline should circumstances change during the next week.”

The announcement was made after the district was forced to shut down a Bay Harbor Islands school indefinitely because of coronavirus concerns. Officials said a recreation center employee, who works with students in an aftercare program, began showing symptoms earlier in the week and tested positive for COVID-19.

“That individual is responsible for aftercare services to dozens of children attending both public and private schools in the area,” Carvalho said. “The cross-pollination through families, meaning siblings of those children who attend middle schools and senior high schools across the community, is something we could not ignore.”

At around the same time, Broward County Schools announced during a news conference that they also will temporarily close schools due to the coronavirus pandemic.

BCPS Superintendent Robert Runcie said the district is planning on continuing to pay its hourly employees while the schools are closed.

“I want to announce today that Broward County Public Schools will close temporarily in response to the threat of coronavirus in order to safeguard our students, our teachers, staff, parents and the greater Broward County community against what is clearly an extremely contagious disease,” Runcie said.

Initially, all employees were required to report to work during the closure, but following protest from the Broward Teachers Union, Broward school officials have since ruled that only identified essential personnel will not be required to work from March 16-20.

“Beginning the week of March 23, all employees who are on calendar, and thus previously scheduled to work, will return back to work,” Broward school officials said in an updated statement.

Meanwhile, Archbishop Thomas Wenski announced Friday that Archdiocese of Miami schools will be closed starting on Tuesday.

“Following their lead, by the end of the day on Monday, March 16, our Catholic schools will close in Miami-Dade County, Monroe County and Broward County,” Wenski said. “We have about 35 elementary schools and six high schools in this area.”

Church masses, however, will continue for now. “If circumstances dictate in coming days that Masses be suspended the Archdiocese will make a timely announcement to that effect,” read a statement from the Archdiocese.

Carvalho also announced that the district will be participating in a community feeding plan starting Monday.

“Between 9 a.m. and 12:30 p.m., every one of our children at every one of our schools shall have the right to have access to a free, nutritious hot meal,” Carvalho said. “That includes breakfast and lunch at every single site.”

Broward students who receive breakfast and lunch through the schools will still be provided meals. Breakfast will be distributed from 8 a.m. to 10 a.m., and lunch will be served from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Monday, Wednesday and Thursday only.

Eight schools will be distributing the meals, which are:

  • J.P. Taravella High School
  • Nova High School
  • Miramar High School
  • Dillard High School
  • Charles W. Flanagan High School
  • Hallandale High School
  • Boyd H. Anderson High School
  • Blanche Ely High School

During spring break, BCPS typically uses that time to set up an alternative child care system. Runcie announced they would be continuing the program, but they will be prioritizing the children of first responders, district employees and of medical staff members.

Runcie said the schools will be disinfected and cleaned during spring break.

“This is a very resilient community, and we will step up to this challenge and be stronger on the other end,” he said.

Carvalho said all of M-DCPS’ voting sites for Florida’s primary election on Tuesday, March 17, will remain open as scheduled.

“Our sites shall be open and remain open for the election,” Carvalho said.

He also said that certain employees and select teams of maintenance personnel and food service personnel will still report to schools during the closure.

All M-DCPS extra-curricular activities will go on as scheduled on Friday, but they will be cancelled starting Monday, the superintendent said.

Carvalho said they have been preparing for the possibility of closing schools, and on Friday, officials began distributing devices for remote learning.

“We have an excess of 200,000 devices available in our school system to put in the hands of students,” Carvalho said. “Across all schools in Miami-Dade, that distribution has begun, and it will continue through [Saturday]. That is why it is important to continue the Saturday school program.”

M-DCPS is also working with Comcast Xfinity to provide free Wi-Fi for those that need it starting Monday, for the next 60 days.

The district is also working to provide relief for hourly employees who might not get paid during the emergency closure. However, Carvalho warned, if an employee travels to a high-risk area during spring break, they will not be covered if they have to self-isolate for 14 days.

Over the next two weeks, all schools will be deep cleaned, Carvalho announced.

Karla Hernandez Mats, the president of the Miami-Dade Teacher’s Union, applauded M-DCPS’ decision to close schools.

“We know that this is the right thing that we are taking these steps, that we are being proactive and that we are so prepared,” she said. “We have been in collaboration. We believe that our distance learning is going to be very effective.”

Anna Fusco, the president of the Broward Teachers Union, said, “There are major, major places that are closing, because they want to make sure everybody’s health is first. We need to make sure our students’ health is first. Our employees’ health is first.”

Some parents in the community agreed with the districts’ decision to temporarily close the schools.

“I’m OK with it, but I’m just worried about a lot of the people that have businesses like myself,” a parent said. “If there’s no school, there’s no after-school.”

“We need to keep the kids safe and healthy, and I have a kid with disabilities, so that’s going to make it even much better,” a second parent said.

Friday night, the Florida Department of Education ordered that all schools to close across the state, which means more than two million students will be out of class next week.

Miami-Dade County Public Schools has set up a webpage with information for parents, students and employees surrounding the coronavirus. For more information, click here.

Broward County Public Schools has set up a webpage with more information for students, parents and employees. For more information, click here.

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