(The Center Square) – Florida’s largest teachers union, the superintendent of the state’s second-largest school district and congressional Democrats are raising alarms about reopening schools in August without a dramatic statewide slackening in new COVID-19 cases.
Florida Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran via emergency order Monday mandated schools reopen classrooms in August and offer “the full panoply of services” to students and families.
“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 stated.
Florida schools closed in March. Instruction for the state’s 2.9 million K-12 students has been through digital curriculum online.
Fedrick Ingram, president of the Florida Education Association (FEA), the state’s largest education union with 130,000 members, in an email Monday to the News Service of Florida said, “It’s clear in communications with our members that educators are scared.”
On CNN on Tuesday, Ingram said Corcoran’s executive order puts educators and school workers in “life or death” peril, especially the sizeable contingent over 60 years old.
The coronavirus “under no circumstance is under control,” Ingram said. “It, under no circumstance, gives us the foundation we need to move forward in reopening our schools. We need to be led by peace and compassion, not politically expedient mistakes.”
He said Corcoran’s order reflects a “lack of leadership” by Gov. Ron DeSantis, who made the “political mistake” of being “tethered to (President Trump).”
Ingram said FEA submitted a 17-page reopening plan in June to the state Board of Education (BOE) with “robust, comprehensive” recommendations “guided by the science.”
The Florida Association of District School Superintendents (FADSS) also submitted a COVID-19 Education Recovery Plan and K-12 Return to School Guidelines to BOE.
Ingram said Corcoran’s order instructs districts to follow advice of health officials and DeSantis’ executive orders, but it does not reference FEA and FADSS recommendations.
“2.8 million children here in Florida are counting on us to get this right,” Ingram said. “There are 200,000 teachers in the state of Florida who are counting on us to get this right.”
Broward County School Superintendent Robert Runcie told reporters Tuesday it is unrealistic for his district, the state’s second largest, to fully reopen in August.
“We will never compromise the health and safety of our students, teachers and staff,” he said.
In a Tuesday conference call, Florida’s congressional Democrats said DeSantis never has met with a bipartisan congressional delegation to discuss his coronavirus response and said Monday’s order usurps local authority and endangers families.
Under Corcoran’s order, all public schools will be required to reopen in August for at least five days a week and 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 said.
The order requires districts submit reopening plans to the Department of Education that include the percentage of students projected to continue distance learning, acknowledging “some parents will continue their child’s education through innovative learning environments.”