Education commissioner: There’s no risk of lives lost due to in-person learning

Florida Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran (left) during an interview on CNN. (Screenshot via CNN)

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Florida Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran appeared on cable news networks Friday to address a pending lawsuit brought against him by the state’s largest teachers union over his decision to reopen schools.

During interviews on Fox News and CNN, Corcoran again defended his decision to issue an emergency order that requires that local schools resume in-person learning this month amid the coronavirus pandemic.

When asked by CNN’s Jake Tapper if there is a risk that lives will be lost because of the decision to open schools, Corcoran said “no.”

“No, and multiple reasons,” Corcoran said. “Number one is that these criteria you should look at your transmission rate and by the way, like three weeks ago they were saying you need to be below 10% when we were up in the 18% range, now we’re down to 6.8, now it’s 5%. I don’t even think it’s a good metric. We have small counties, as you know in Florida, like Baker County. Well, that’s where some of our larger prisons are so they have an outbreak in the prison, it has no effect on the schoolchildren. Because their rate goes up a little bit we’re gonna say okay now you got to shutter the schools and have the kids suffer. No, they’re doing a great job they’ve been open.”

The teachers union, the Florida Education Association, alleges that a July 6 emergency order issued by Corcoran requiring brick-and-mortar schools to reopen five days a week in August violates the state Constitution’s guarantee of “safe” and “secure” public education. Schools risk losing funding if they don’t comply with Corcoran’s order, which teachers’ attorneys called “financial bullying.”

Lawyers representing Gov. Ron DeSantis, Corcoran and state education officials, who are defendants in the case, maintain that the Constitution also requires the state to provide “high-quality education” to Florida schoolchildren. Corcoran called it a “frivolous lawsuit,” during an appearance on Fox News.

Leon County Circuit Judge Charles Dodson, who is slated to issue a ruling early next week, heard closing arguments in the case on Friday.

DeSantis and Corcoran have steadfastly insisted that families need to be able to choose whether to have children return to face-to-face instruction or learn remotely. Classrooms were shut down in March as COVID-19 began to spread throughout the state, and children were forced to use distance learning the rest of the spring.

More than 150,000 Florida children have already started the school year, including students in Duval County, and more are set to return to classrooms in the coming weeks.

During an interview with Bill Hamler on Fox News, Corcoran said any teacher who doesn’t show up to work when classes resume runs the risk of getting “terminated.”

Some teachers in Duval County called out sick on the first day of classes to protest the district’s decision to bring students back inside schools.

Following the interview, Corcoran clarified his comments to Florida Politics saying that “he does not have the power to fire teachers.” If teachers are to be fired that would be a decision made by individual school superintendents, he told Florida Politics.

A 6-year-old girl from Hillsborough County became the youngest person to die from coronavirus complications in Florida, health officials said.

The girl is among the 119 deaths reported by the state on Friday, according to data from the Florida Department of Health.

Florida’s rate of positive COVID-19 tests remained below 8% six of the last seven days, according to data released Friday by the state health department. Until the past week, the number hadn’t dipped below 8% since June 21.

It remains to be seen how the reopening of school districts in Florida will affect the rate of positive cases.

News Service of Florida contributed to this report.

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Digital reporter who has lived in Jacksonville for more than 25 years and focuses on important local issues like education and the environment.