Florida schools must reopen with in-person instruction, says education commissioner

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The Florida education commissioner said on Monday that all public schools must reopen to students in person when the school year begins next month, even as cases of coronavirus continue to increase in his state.

In the emergency order, Commissioner Richard Corcoran called schools “not only the site of school learning” but also crucial places in the lives of students who provide “nutrition, socialization, counseling and extracurricular activities, “adding that their reopening was essential for” a return to Florida reaching its economic pace. ”

Corcoran’s ordinance, which applies to the fall semester, requires schools to open “at least five days a week for all students” subject to the advice of public health officials. It happens that cases of coronavirus in Florida exceed 206,000 and the daily number of new cases has reached records.

The mandate shocked some Florida educators, including Amy Spies, a fourth-year teacher at Daytona Beach whose small classroom cannot accommodate the six feet of recommended space between each of her 22 students.

“I cannot imagine any other industry forcing an entire workforce in such a dangerous environment,” she said, adding that she and other teachers were “totally incredulous”. “It is physically impossible to meet [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] social distancing requirements if schools are at full capacity. ”

Corcoran acknowledged that some families, particularly those with medical vulnerabilities, will not feel comfortable sending their children for face-to-face education, and stated that school boards may submit learning plans to distance for these students. But the order has focused on schools opening their doors to each student.

Last month, Governor Ron DeSantis, a Republican, recommended that all Florida schools reopen to capacity, arguing that if they did not, parents could not return to work.

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But the governor’s recommendation did not go as far as Corcoran’s order and left the final word to school districts as to how they would follow the CDC’s social distancing guidelines for schools in order to reduce the spread of coronavirus.

Some counties, such as Miami-Dade, one of the largest public school systems in the country, planned to offer a combination of in-person and distance learning courses – a hybrid model that many school districts across the countries are weighing in considering bringing back students while minimizing risk. The format varies from district to district, with some considering bringing a cohort of students part of the day or part of the week or a week at a time before disconnecting with the rest of the students, in order to don’t have too many students in one building at a time.

It was unclear how the Corcoran order would affect plans to reopen Miami-Dade and other districts in Florida. In a statement Monday evening, the Miami-Dade schools superintendent, Alberto Carvalho, called the mandate “fair and measured” and said that it “appeared to be perfectly aligned” with the Miami-Dade plan; her school district did not immediately respond to a request for further information from NBC News.

The far-reaching mandate comes amid a growing push to send students back to school this fall after the pandemic closed most schools across the country in the spring. Earlier Monday, President Donald Trump tweeted: “SCHOOLS MUST OPEN IN THE FALL !!! His education secretary, Betsy DeVos, retweeted this, calling it “absolutely true.”

It is not only politicians who are asking students to return to their classes. Last month, the American Academy of Pediatrics said it “strongly advocates” for the physical presence of children in school, citing evidence that not only are children less likely to be severely infected with coronavirus, but also that they were less likely to spread the virus. infection.

But while distance learning is widely seen as less effective, research suggesting that low-income students, blacks and Latin Americans are experiencing the greatest academic losses, the return of students to their brick and mortar schools. mortar comes with a multitude of challenges.

With their budgets decimated by the economic downturn that has resulted from coronavirus blockages, many school districts are wondering how they will pay for expensive new cleaning procedures, health tests and other safety measures for those returning to their homes. schools. Mid-sized district could pay up to $ 1.8 million to reopen all school buildings according to new safety guidelines, according to joint analysis by Association of School Business Officials International and AASA, The School Superintendents Association.

Dan Domenech, the executive director of the School Superintendents Association, called the Florida order regarding.

“We have always been in favor of opening schools, but they do so in a safe way. “

“We have always been in favor of opening schools, but they are doing it in a safe way,” he said. “Our concern is that any mandate to open schools and completely ignore the guidelines that have been promoted by the CDC and all health professionals, including social spacing and the wearing of face masks, and simply say” open business as usual ”is a total disregard for the safety and well-being of students and staff who will be at this institution. ”

Some parents did not know what to do with the commissioner’s decision. Jennifer Restrepo, a mother of two daughters from North Miami Beach who attend public schools in Coral Gables, hoped that her daughters could make a hybrid model for their studies this year, and is awaiting confirmation from their principals to find out if it will always be a option, if 100% of students choose to return to their class.

“It would give them the best of both worlds, which is being able to see their friends face to face as well as a moment of teaching so that they learn to manage different situations”, Restrepo, who works in the operations of a university research department, said.

Mariana Foerster, whose daughter will start kindergarten next month in Miami’s High Pines, says having her daughter at home has made managing her financial services business extremely difficult and find out if the school will be open. Even with Corcoran’s tenure, it doesn’t seem to be a sure thing, given the number of cases of coronavirus in Florida, Foerster said.

“I would love nothing more than having my daughter in school, and it is a risk that I take,” she said. “I think psychologically she has to go to school. I agree with the hybrid, but I can’t have the luxury of having it at home. “

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