Despite teacher and parent concerns over a potential spike in coronavirus cases, the state’s education commissioner sent a stern letter to Broward school district officials telling them he wants schools fully open by Oct. 5.
The letter, sent Friday by Florida Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran, demands a detailed analysis on a school-by-school basis for any exemptions. He gives the district until Oct. 2 to respond.
Corcoran sent similar letters to school districts in Miami-Dade and Hillsborough counties.
In his letter to Broward school officials, Corcoran claims to have “grave concerns” regarding their decision to “revoke parents' ability to choose brick-and-mortar schools for their children’s education by forcing families to use only distance learning options, despite the fact that the entire county transitioned to Phase 2 nearly two weeks ago.”
Corcoran wrote that any plan to delay the full reopening of schools goes against the state’s emergency order to provide face-to-face instruction five days a week to parents who want that for their children.
Corcoran argues that a delayed opening is “harmful for students who are experiencing violence, abuse and food insecurity in their homes.” He goes on to say those children will now fall even further behind.
“These are urgent circumstances we cannot, and will not, ignore,” he wrote.
In his letter, Corcoran asks school districts in both Broward and Miami-Dade to submit an amended plan proving certain criteria for each school seeking an exemption, including student capacity; the number of students requesting in-person instruction; the number of students who can receive in-person instruction at a school, including the layout of the school’s facilities; the number of students unable to be offered in-person instruction; an explanation of how the district is ensuring priority for in-person instruction will be given to the most vulnerable students; an overall explanation of why a school cannot open, citing the specific health and safety guidance the district is relying on.
Corcoran also instructs each school district to determine which teachers and support staff are willing and able to provide in-person instruction on day one.
Broward County had planned to allow students to start returning to school buildings on Oct. 14, with more students starting on Oct. 20.
The Miami-Dade School Board, which planned to open its schools by Oct. 21, plans to meet Tuesday at 1 p.m. for a special meeting at their downtown headquarters to discuss possible options.
Broward Schools Superintendent Robert Runcie and School Board Chair Donna Korn gave some polite but firm pushback in a response letter dated Sept. 25.
“While we share your ambition to open our school facilities for instructional delivery as soon as pandemic conditions allow, there are elements to your letter with which we have concerns described below,” they wrote.
District officials have been giving the school board weekly updates on the status of the pandemic in Broward County and the implications if the district were to resume brick and mortar operations, the letter states.
Those considerations include infection rates, positivity rates, the ability to manage the spread of the virus through test result turnaround time and contact tracing ability. Hospitalization rates and the capacity of local hospital and ICU beds are also taken into consideration along with the availability of PPE and sanitization materials.
“While we have been hopeful that pandemic conditions would allow our District to open earlier than Oct. 20, the first day of instruction scheduled after Oct. 16, we believe that accelerating our date for student return can commence no earlier than Oct. 14,” Runcie and Korn wrote. “This decision was reached with extensive parent, staff and community input as well as multiple public health professionals.”
Corcoran’s letter makes reference to Palm Beach County and its ability to offer in-person learning to all students within 16 days of entering phase 2 on Sept. 4.
“Your plan does not offer that option for all students until 39 days from the time the county entered Phase 2, more than twice as long as Palm Beach County Schools,” his letter states.
Corcoran ends his letter saying he expects a detailed analysis for his review if the districts choose to delay the reopening of brick-and-mortar schools beyond Oct. 5.
Staff Writer Scott Travis contributed to this report.
Susannah Bryan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 954-356-4554 or on Twitter @Susannah_Bryan
©2020 the Sun Sentinel (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.)
Visit the Sun Sentinel (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.) at www.sun-sentinel.com
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.