Florida schools must reopen with in-person instruction, Education Commissioner says

Photo Source: Sam Greenwood / Getty Images file

Miami, Fl – Florida’s Education Commissioner said Monday all public schools must reopen to students in-person when the academic year begins next month, even as cases of the coronavirus continued to surge in his state.

In the emergency order, Commissioner Richard Corcoran called schools “not just the site of academic learning” but also crucial places in students’ lives that provide “nutrition, socialization, counseling and extra-curricular activities,” adding that their reopening was critical to “a return to Florida hitting its full economic stride.”

Corcoran’s order, which applies to the fall semester, requires schools to open “at least five days per week for all students” subject to guidance from public health officials. It comes as coronavirus cases in Florida top 206,000 and the daily number of new cases has reached record highs.

The mandate shocked some Florida educators, including Amy Spies, a fourth-grade teacher in Daytona Beach whose small classroom cannot accommodate the recommended six feet of space between each of her 22 students.

“I can think of no other industry forcing an entire workforce into such an unsafe environment,” she said, adding that she and other teachers were in “utter disbelief.” “It is physically impossible to meet [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] social distancing requirements if schools are at full capacity.”

Corcoran acknowledged that some families, particularly those with medical vulnerabilities, will not feel comfortable sending their children back for face-to-face instruction, and said school boards can submit remote learning plans for such students. But the order put a heavy emphasis on schools opening their doors to every student.

Last month, Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Republican, recommended all Florida schools reopen at full capacity, arguing that if they did not, parents would not be able to return to work.

But the governor’s recommendation did not go as far as Corcoran’s order, and left the final say up to school districts in terms of how they would abide by the CDC’s social-distancing guidelines for schools to reduce the spread of the coronavirus.

Some counties, such as Miami-Dade, one of the largest public school systems in the country, planned on offering a mix of in-person and remote learning courses — a hybrid model that many school districts across the country are weighing as they look to bring students back while minimizing the risks. The format varies from district to district, with some considering bringing a cohort of students back for part of the day or part of the week or for a week at a time before switching off with the rest of the students, so as to not have too many students in a building at once.

It was not clear how Corcoran’s order would affect Miami-Dade’s and other Florida district’s reopening plans. In a statement Monday evening, Miami-Dade Schools Superintendent Alberto Carvalho called the mandate “fair and measured” and said it “appears to fully align” with Miami-Dade’s plan; his school district did not immediately respond to a request for more information from NBC News.

News Source: NBC News

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