West Palm Beach, Fla. – In voting for longtime Chief Financial Ofﬁcer Mike Burke last month as interim superintendent of the nation’s 10th largest school district, the Palm Beach County School Board was seeking to put its best foot forward for the start of the new school year next week.
Since then COVID-19 has resurged with a vengeance, resurrecting heated debates from the height of the pandemic: mask or no mask, virtual school or actual classroom, dissatisfaction regardless of school policy on coronavirus concerns.
Board member Marcia Andrews said pandemic or not, and despite the addition of a superintendent search to the mix, she is poised for the task of educating the district’s 170,000 children – including thousands of low-income and underserved students who are facing life’s challenges.
“Here we are,” said Andrews. “I was surprised (former superintendent Dr. Donald Fennoy) resigned because he was working. I didn’t realize it was so taxing on his family, but we’re here for our children. We must serve and protect our students and I’m here to do that. Serving a district as large as ours is a big job.”
The pandemic makes it an even more important job, said longtime board member, former board chair and medical doctor Debra Robinson. She takes issue with Gov. Ron DeSantis’ order this week that there be no requirements for Florida children to wear masks to school.
“First and foremost I want the children of this school district to be safe and healthy,” said Robinson. “The governor is doing our children and families a tremendous disservice while he panders to his political base with his stance on masks. I’m sure he knows better, but he’s caving to his political base. He’s not a stupid man.”
She says she will always advocate for children wearing masks to school. “We’ve got to put their safety ﬁrst.”
As for the choice of a permanent superintendent, Robinson said she’s not looking that far ahead because now is important. She is ready for Burke to lead the district through the current tumultuous time.
“Let’s look at what we’re facing today,” she said. “We’re always waiting for Superman to show up and save the day! We can’t wait on that. Today matters. Every day counts.”
MIS-EDUCATING BLACKS Carl Muhammad, a decades-long advocate for Black children in the county, said it makes no sense to concern oneself over who takes the helm, when the education being taught is not factual.
“Black families are mentally challenged because of the knowledge they’ve given us, called ‘education,’” said Muhammad, who was appointed by the former mayor of West Palm Beach as head of an educational committee for Community and Public Relations.
He has long advocated for African American history to be infused into the school curriculum, and was active in the effort that got a Florida statute to that effect passed in 1994, but it’s not being done from a Black perspective, he said.
Muhammad is also urging those running in the special election for the late Alcee Hastings’ congressional seat to put education high on their agenda.
“We need everyone to look at the individual needs of our children,” he said. “We need people to participate. Everyone in Palm Beach County and elsewhere.
“People have not participated in our children’s education like they should have. We need them to participate. That’s critical.”