76ºF

Florida education commissioner: ‘We want schools fully open in the fall'

BREVARD COUNTY, Fla. – Gov. Ron DeSantis on Thursday announced a plan for Florida’s K-12 schools to reopen at full capacity in the fall.

Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran said that’s the recommendation being made to Florida school superintendents.

“The message should be loud and clear what we are saying, with a strong recommendation to our great superintendents that we work with: We want schools fully open in the fall because there is no better way to educate our kids that have that great teacher in front of that child,” Corcoran said. “We’re going to be smart we’re going to be safe."

Along with Thursday’s announcement, DeSantis released a 143-page document that provides a roadmap to return students to on-campus instruction after campuses were closed in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

In the plan, it says that “Florida can only hit its economic stride if schools are open.”

“We have a great opportunity to get back on good footing,” DeSantis said Thursday. “I know our kids have been in difficult circumstances for the past, really couple months now...I think it is going to be really, really important for the well being of our kids.”

The announcement by DeSantis came on the same day that Florida coronavirus cases increased by nearly 1,700, the biggest one-day jump to date.

“We also know that [students] are not at a low risk, they are at an extremely low risk, not only of contracting [COVID-19], but even spreading it all of that data is in,” Corcoran said.

MORE | Read the full plan for reopening Florida’s schools

Gov. Ron DeSantis announces school opening plan in Melbourne.
Gov. Ron DeSantis announces school opening plan in Melbourne. (Copyright 2020 by WJXT News4Jax - All rights reserved.)

The state said reopening schools will require “locally driven strategies” with help from the Florida Department of Education and local health officials.

While cloth face coverings are not mandated, schools should explore strategies to utilize them, to the extent feasible, the plan states. At a minimum, according to the plan, schools should be supportive of students, teachers and staff who voluntarily wear cloth face coverings.

The plan recommends those medically vulnerable students and staff develop a plan for returning to school with their family doctor.

DeSantis said Thursday the state will survey school districts on the need for personal protective equipment and sanitation supplies and help provide those through coordinating with the Florida Division of Emergency Management.

“6 feet of distance between desks is not feasible for most classrooms and almost never for school buses,” the plan reads. “However, the impact of class size is not as significant, as Florida’s K-12 class sizes are already constitutionally mandated to be small.”

The state said that “districts and schools could align bus and class schedules and seating arrangements with clusters of students who will spend the majority of their days together to minimize any one student’s daily contacts.”

Recommendations to redesign school day to reduce risks:

  • As feasible, keep groups of students together throughout the day to minimize the number of people in close contact with each person.
  • As feasible, convert cafeterias, libraries, gymnasiums, auditoriums, outdoor areas into classroom space.
  • Explore allowing students to eat meals in traditional classroom space or outdoors.
  • Move nonessential furniture and equipment out of classrooms to increase distance between students and turn desks the same direction.
  • Maintain a maximum distance between desks as possible, even if not able to achieve 6 feet, and avoid sharing of textbooks, supplies and toys.
  • Consider setting up a secondary clinic in schools, exclusively for students showing symptoms of COVID-19.
  • Establish procedures in consultation with school health staff to quickly separate students and staff who become sick from others.
  • Create a disinfection protocol for cleaning door knobs, counters and other surfaces throughout the day.
  • Consider limiting nonessential visitors to campuses and programs.
  • Consider alternative meeting options for nonessential volunteer activities, clubs and other elective meetings that require in-person contact.
  • Explore limiting nonessential mass gatherings or reschedule as virtual gatherings.

School districts in Northeast Florida have been waiting on recommendations from the state before implementing plans for how to proceed when the 2020-2021 school year begins.

It wasn’t immediately clear how local school districts plan to proceed after the state released its recommendations.

Surveys by school districts in Duval and St. Johns County have found mixed opinions about a return to school campuses.

Most Duval County parents and teachers said they would rather continue online learning until it’s safe to return to schools while in St. Johns County, 69% of St. Johns County parents support a return to schools.


About the Authors: