Amid the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reporting over 200,000 COVID-19 cases in Florida, county school districts were ordered to reopen for regular, in-person education but give students the option of attending.
Florida Department of Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran issued an executive order on Monday to reopen schools to all in-person education in August and hold classes at least five days a week. Still, the ultimate decision on which educational model to provide rests with local county school boards and departments of health.
All school districts must submit plans to the Florida Department of Education (FLDOE), that satisfy the requirements of the order. In reviewing and approving the plans, the department will also consider factors including, but not limited to, the percentage of students projected to learn through live synchronous or asynchronous instruction, the quality of proposed progress monitoring data, and efforts to close achievement gaps.
The format of plan submissions, as well as the timing of review and approvals will be established by Corcoran. No date deadline was listed, at this writing.
Corcoran’s Executive Order 20-52 states that school districts and charter school governing boards must also provide the full array of services that are required by law for families who wish to send their children back to school for in-person learning, as well as those who desire online learning due to vulnerabilities.
These services include specialized instruction and services for students with Individualized Educational Programs, or live synchronous or asynchronous instruction online with the same curriculum as in-person instruction, and the ability to interact with teachers and peers.
The order adds that required services must also specifically be provided to students from low-income families, students of migrant workers, students who are homeless or in foster care, students who are English Language Learners, and other vulnerable populations.
For students who choose remote learning, districts must record data indicating that students are progressing in an online learning environment. Students should receive additional support if choosing this method and should also receive the option to transition to another teaching method, should they fail.
The order also states the FLDOE will not wave the minimum number of instructional hours for students.
It comes on the heels of an executive order issued by Gov. Ron DeSantis, which declared a state of emergency in response to COVID-19 Public Health Emergency and discussed how critical the nature of public education is to the success of the state and its residents.
That emergency order said school closures can impede on education success of students, and impact the family’s well-being as well as limit parents and guardians from going to work.
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DeSantis’ order defines schools as not simply academic learning sites. They also provide critical services to students such as nutrition, socialization, counseling and extra-curricular activities. The executive order continues that there is a need to fully reopen schools to ensure quality and continuity of the education process, the comprehensive well-being of students and families and a return to Florida hitting its full economic stride.
A similar proclamation was made Tuesday during the National Dialogue on Safely Reopening America’s Schools, held at the White House. School district leaders held discussions with officials from the Trump administration and organizations like the American Academy of Pediatrics, which has said children are best served by returning to in-person classes, if possible, and with safeguards in place.
Meanwhile, Florida’s reopening of schools must also be consistent with safety precautions as defined by the Florida Department of Health, local health officials, residents, and those with underlying conditions that make them medically vulnerable.
In June, the Florida Department of Education released its reopening schools document. However, school bus guidance was limited to recommendations that school districts consider the use of cloth face coverings and providing links to previous bus and childcare recommendations made by the CDC. The Florida plan also states that maintaining six feet of social distance on school buses is not feasible.