Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran on Monday ordered public schools to reopen in August and offer “the full panoply of services” to students and families.
As COVID-19 outbreaks spike in Florida, Corcoran's mandate said that extending school closures can impede students’ educational success and prevent parents and guardians from returning 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,” the order states.
Under the emergency order, all public schools will be required to reopen in August for at least five days a week and to provide the full array of services required by law, including in-person instruction and services for students with special needs.
“Required services must be provided to students from low-income families, students of migrant workers, students who are homeless, students with disabilities, students in foster care, students who are English-language learners, and other vulnerable populations,” the order says.
Corcoran's order also instructs school districts to follow the advice of state and local health officials as well as executive orders issued by Gov. Ron DeSantis.
The Republican governor and Corcoran, a former Florida House speaker, have been determined to reopen public schools at full capacity next month, even as state health officials have reported a minimum of 5,000 new COVID-19 cases in each of the last 13 days.
Teachers, however, are concerned about their safety, according to Florida Education Association President Fedrick Ingram.
“It’s clear in communications with our members that educators are scared. They don’t trust politicians to make sure things are safe – rightly so, with the record-breaking number of cases being reported,” Ingram told the News Service of Florida in an email Monday. “The governor is trying to brush that off.”
Ingram, who heads the state’s top teachers’ union, said students and school employees “need to be at the center of our conversations about reopening schools.”
Department of Education spokeswoman Taryn Fenske said in an email last week that the state has a “moral imperative to do our absolute best to return our schools to full operation by August.”
“Our children’s education, the comprehensive health of our families – mental health and stability in homes – and our economy are all depending on us to make every effort to reopen our school campuses,” she wrote.Fenske, however, would not say if specific metrics about COVID-19 cases would prompt the education department to backtrack on the school reopening plans.
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