Florida school districts seek parents' input as August school openings near

The Center Square – Many of Florida’s 67 county school districts are asking parents their preference for in-person instruction or digital learning as they plan on how to meet the Florida Department of Education’s mandate to reopen in August.

Preliminary indications are mixed. Whereas a majority of Orange County parents have expressed reservations about in-class instruction, more than two-thirds of those responding to a Miami-Dade County survey wanted their children taught face-to-face by teachers.

Florida Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran via emergency order Monday mandated schools reopen classrooms in August at least five days a week and offer “the full panoply of services,” including in-person instruction.

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“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 reads.

The Florida Education Association, superintendents of the state’s two largest school districts and Democrats question how the state can order schools reopened in weeks when there are more COVID-19 cases now than there were in March when schools were shuttered.

On Tuesday, members of the Orange County Classroom Teachers Association paraded in cars around district headquarters, urging the Orange County School Board meeting inside to not open schools in compliance with the state order.

During the board’s noon-to-night meeting, it discussed giving parents three options: a return to traditional classes on campus, online versions of classes that would allow students to study at home and the district’s virtual school.

Board member Johanna Lopez said she’s receiving many emails from parents showing little support for in-class school lessons.

“The only emails I’m receiving are against face-to-face education,” she said.

Miami-Dade County Public Schools Superintendent Alberto Carvalho, however, reported the opposite in his district’s survey.

Carvalho told the Miami Herald that, as of Tuesday, 25,000 parents had responded to an online survey, with two-thirds opting for in-school learning and one-third opting out.

Carvalho joined Broward County Public Schools Superintendent Robert Runcie in expressing doubt their districts would open schools as scheduled Aug. 24.

The Miami-Dade school district is Florida’s largest and the nation’s fifth-largest school district, with more than 357,000 students, according to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES).

The Broward County school district, with 256,472 enrolled students, is Florida’s second-largest district and the nation’s seventh largest, according to NCES.

Unless cases decline, Carvalho does not see his district “being able to resume schooling in a traditional way” when school reopens. He also questioned the state’s authority to impose the mandate.

The state constitution spells out that elected school boards, not the state, decides when to open and close local schools, he said, noting Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach school districts had shuttered schools before Gov. Ron DeSantis did so by executive order.

The Miami-Dade school board approved a district reopening plan July 1 that includes in-person instruction after the county moves into phase two of its reopening plan.

The county has not advanced into phase two and, in fact, Mayor Carlos Gimenez has rolled back some relaxations authorized in phase one.

A webinar Tuesday explained Corcoran’s order more fully, Carvalho said, and clarified that, if conditions don’t meet local reopening requirements, then local districts do not have to comply with the state order.

“I don’t necessarily, at this point, believe that (Corcoran’s order) endangers all of the options that we proffered and were unanimously approved by the board,” Carvalho said. “We believe that we can work within the guidelines as provided in the emergency order.”

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