Florida’s public schools must reopen, offer 5-day-a-week, on-campus option, state says

By Leslie Postal | ORLANDO SENTINEL | JUL 06, 2020 

Florida’s public schools must open their campuses in August and operate five days a week, giving all students the option of a traditional school calendar, the state’s education commissioner said in an executive order signed Monday.

That requirement, however, could be waived if local or state health departments deem such plans unsafe, according to the order signed by Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran.

Schools are currently grappling with how to reopen campuses — shuttered in March to stop the spread of the coronavirus — in the face of rising cases in Florida.

Districts are allowed, and encouraged, to develop “innovative alternatives” to classes in “brick and mortar” schools. But parents who seek a return to a typical school week on campus must have that option when schools restart next month, said Jacob Oliva, chancellor of K-12 education at the Florida Department of Education, in a video call Monday with local school officials to explain the new order.

Oliva noted that in state surveys, about one-third of parents have said they want their children back on campus full time starting in August. The other two-thirds aren’t sure yet or want their children to study online to avoid crowds on campuses.

Some school districts, including in Duval County and South Florida, previously have proposed reopening plans that would allow students to attend campus only part of the week, studying online the other days. But those options no longer seem sufficient under Corcoran’s new order.

In Central Florida, however, the Lake and Osceola county school districts have announced plans that would give parents a five-day-a-week option, and Seminole County is working on such a proposal, too. Those districts are letting parents choose if they want their children back on campus or if they’d prefer for them to study online when the 2020-21 school year begins.

The Orange County school district plans to discuss reopening plans at a meeting Tuesday.

The Florida Department of Education must approve districts reopening plans, unless districts choose to operate on a traditional plan as they did before the nation’s health crisis.

Florida’s new order was issued the same day President Donald Trump tweeted, “SCHOOLS MUST OPEN IN THE FALL!!!” and also that Democrats “don’t want to open schools in the Fall for political reasons, not for health reasons!”

Corcoran, a former Republican lawmaker and speaker of the Florida House, was tapped by Gov. Ron DeSantis to run Florida’s education system soon after DeSantis, a fellow Republican, won election in 2018.

Both men have made it clear they want public schools open. They view in-person instruction as best for students, and they think the state’s economy, decimated by the coronavirus pandemic, cannot fully recover without schools open so parents can return to work.

“There is a need to open schools fully to ensure the quality and continuity of the educational process, the comprehensive well-being of students and families and a return to Florida hitting its full economic stride,” Corcoran’s order said.

On Facebook, however, the new order quickly drew criticism from some teachers who fear schools cannot safely operate giving the current spread of the virus.

“Just plain crazy,” one wrote.

“Then again, I’m a sane person who values human life. What do I know? #lordhelpus” wrote another.

Orange Mayor Jerry Demings said school reopening plans will rest with local school districts but he hoped students could return safely to campus in August.

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