Palm Beach Schools has a new superintendent — for now

A week after Palm Beach Schools Superintendent Donald Fennoy announced his resignation, the school board chose another top administrator in the district to fill his shoes for now.

The board appointed Michael Burke, who is the school district’s current chief financial officer, as the district’s interim superintendent at a Wednesday night meeting.

When thinking of who in the district may be best suited to take the seat, School Board Chairman Frank Barbieri said at the meeting that Burke immediately came to mind. The district will benefit from his experience as CFO, Barbieri said, as he has the “knowledge to do both academic side and the operations side” of the job.

Board Member Marcia Andrews said the board was unified on the decision to select Burke.

Burke acknowledged the difficult position the school district and board members have been in since the start of the pandemic, calling it the “most challenging times in modern history,” and that “it’s going to take a concerted effort again this year to meet the needs of our students.

“I am honored and I promise I will work hard to make you proud of this appointment,” Burke told the board members Wednesday.

Fennoy’s contract requires he give three months’ notice, meaning his resignation takes effect Oct. 11.

The decision to appoint Burke came after hours of heated public comment from parents about the school district’s reopening plans for the 2021-22 year.

Though the board did not change any current COVID-19 plans for the upcoming school year, dozens of speakers bashed the idea of any mandatory mask wearing in schools. A few pleaded with board members to require students and staff to continue wearing them.

Board member Dr. Debra Robinson asked the board to discuss reopening plans “in light of the skyrocketing cases of COVID-19 in Palm Beach County.”

That didn’t mean they were discussing or voting on bringing back a mask mandate, Barbieri said before the meeting’s end. Masks for students and teachers will still be optional for 2021-22.

Andrews said they’re “under the auspices” of Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran and Gov. Ron DeSantis for what the new school year will look like. They’ve made it clear things should be as close to normal as possible.

Robinson said students will be socially distanced in schools, but a new three-feet apart rather than six and that schools need to have guidance on allowing students to eat lunch and breakfast outside when possible.

Robinson is still concerned, though. She wants the school district to work with the county health department to make recommendations for the 2021-22 reopening plans.

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Last June, the number of new COVID-19 cases reached 18.2 per 100,000 people each day, Robinson said. Now, that number is up to 23.7 per 100,000 people.

The positive test rate last June was 13.3%, Robinson said. Now, it has spiked back up to 12.7%. She cautioned parents and board members alike that “everything is not back to normal.

“If we had all of these protective measures in place then, we should not just turn away,” Robinson said. “We cannot put our head in the sand when the numbers are skyrocketing.”

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