Despite having a record-breaking number of coronavirus cases, Florida officials have ordered schools to reopen this fall. In an order issued Monday, Florida Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran said all schools in the state must reopen in August for a minimum of five days of in-person learning a week. The mandate comes just two days after Florida broke the United States' record for most coronavirus cases reported in a single day.
"All school boards and charter school governing boards must open brick and mortar schools in August at least five days per week for all students," Corcoran's emergency order dated July 6 read.
Under the order, Florida school districts must submit a reopening plan that meets all requirements laid out in the order, including the reopening of physical buildings and classrooms for students' use. It notes that Florida's Department of Education would not waive state statutes regarding the number of instructional days and hours schools must provide to students. Schools will also not be allowed to adopt a fully hybrid learning model that sees all students divide their time between remote and in-person classes. Instead, schools must prepare to offer full-time, in-person instruction to every student who wants it.
But that doesn't mean every student must return to the classroom full-time or that schools can't offer virtual education opportunities. "Although it is anticipated that most students will return to full-time brick and mortar schools, some parents will continue their child’s education through innovative learning environments, often due to the medical vulnerability of the child or another family member who resides in the same household," Corcoran's emergency order read.
The order notes that school boards and charter schools with approved reopening plans were authorized to give students learning remotely full credit.
"Education is critical to the success of the state and to an individual, and extended school closures can impede educational success of students, impact families' well-being, and limit many parents and guardians from returning to work," Corcoran's order read. "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."
Both the Florida Department of Health and local health departments can override the state's education commissioner's order to reopen schools if they believe the number of coronavirus cases make reopening unsafe. However, in a statement to the Tallahassee Democrat, a spokesperson for the Department of Education questioned how health departments would move to shutter schools without implementing a widespread stay-at-home order.
"Logically, I don’t think they could say schools aren't safe if they are allowing people to be out in public," Department of Education spokeswoman Cheryl Etters told the newspaper, before noting the agency would work with any school or school district prevented from reopening on continuing their Instructional Continuity Plan or identifying alternative options for learning.
But teachers across Florida have expressed some concerns with Corcoran's order given the state's recent surge in coronavirus cases. "It's clear in communications with our members that educators are scared," Florida Education Association President Fedrick Ingram said in a statement to WFLA. "They don't trust politicians to make sure things are safe — rightly so, with the record-breaking number of cases being reported. ... Safety for students and school employees needs to be at the center of our conversations about reopening schools."
Andrew Spar, vice president of the Florida Education Association, noted in a statement shared over Facebook that teachers "are struggling with what to do with reopening schools" because while they want their students to have the benefits and social development of in-classroom learning, they also want them to be healthy and safe.
"Do we want to be in our schools — absolutely," Spar wrote, noting that coronavirus cases were rising at "an alarming rate" in Florida. "Can it be done safely — that’s the real question. Do schools have the resources to make all needed accommodations — probably not."
On Saturday, Florida recorded 11,458 coronavirus cases, setting a new record for the highest number of cases reported in the United States in one day, CNN reported data from John Hopkins University showed. By the end of the following day, Florida had surpassed 200,000 cases.
If you think you’re showing symptoms of coronavirus, which include fever, shortness of breath, and cough, call your doctor before going to get tested. If you’re anxious about the virus’s spread in your community, visit the CDC for up-to-date information and resources, or seek out mental health support. You can find all of Romper’s parents + coronavirus coverage here.