(The Center Square) – Florida’s 12 public universities plan to reopen campuses in August, and the Florida Department of Education (DOE) is soon expected to outline how the state’s 4,000 public schools will welcome back 2.9 million K-12 students this fall.
The Florida Education Association (FEA), the state’s largest K-12 teachers' union with more than 145,000 members, introduced a 17-page blueprint Tuesday that spells out how it thinks DOE and the State Board of Education (BOE) should proceed.
Among the recommendations: suspending standardized tests and some performance evaluations for teachers, staggering school schedules, temporarily eliminating active-shooting drills and imposing social distancing rules in classrooms, cafeterias and buses.
“There are about 70 days before students are scheduled to return to campuses. It's imperative that we move forward to make that return safe and successful,” FEA President Fedrick Ingram tweeted after FEA introduced the plan during a Facebook teleconference. “We look forward to working with [Florida Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran] and local districts to bring about the best possible outcomes for kids.”
Florida’s public schools have been closed since March 13, when Gov. Ron DeSantis, after a conference call with school district superintendents, called for an “extended spring break” that evolved into distance learning for the remainder of the school year.
As with FADSS’s proposals, FEA’s plan called on schools to test students for COVID-19 and to isolate infected students to prevent the virus from spreading.
FEA’s plan urged schools to sanitize facilities daily, reconfigure classrooms to limit contact among students and suggests teachers – not students – move from classroom to classroom to prevent students from crowding hallways.
Also similar to the FADSS’s proposals, FEA called for incorporating distance learning into a "hybrid schedule” and asked DOE to allow school districts to change classroom hours and the length of the school year.
The proposals did not include specific recommendations regarding staggered school schedules, class-size reductions and teacher-student ratios.
Ingram said the vagaries were intentional because each school district is different and can best develop its own guidelines.
“These are meant as a foundation for discussions on how to reopen schools. They're a conversation-starter with input from the people who know our students and schools best,” he said.
It is uncertain when BOE will review the FEA and FADSS proposals. The next time the board meets is in July.
“As Florida’s public schools look at reopening, we have a significant advantage that we did not have when they were closed: Time,” FEA’s report said. “We must use the time between now and the fall to create plans which ensure not only that reopening be safe but that recognize the closing of school campuses had a disparate impact on Florida’s neediest students.”
Among FEA recommendations:
• Suspend the current accountability system, including standardized tests, school grades and teacher evaluation scores;
• Provide sufficient funding for personal protective equipment for all staff and students;
• Expand school clinic capabilities with triage and isolation areas for students who present with symptoms while they await a parent to pick them up;
• Allow employees who “self-disclose a vulnerability associated with COVID-19” to work remotely;
• Suspend fire drills, active-shooter drills and other emergency drills that "disrupt student learning and could lead to large gatherings of students and staff”;
• Consider modifying attendance requirements “so students are held to the expectation of completing their work – not necessarily to 'checking in' to class every day”;
• Ensure funding for arts classes and electives aren’t cut;
• Extend funding for mental-health services, staff training, risk and trauma assessments.