By Ana Ceballos, The News Service of Florida
TALLAHASSEE — More than a week after Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran ordered schools to reopen in August, members of the State Board of Education on Wednesday said his order has sparked confusion, fear and angst.
Corcoran deflected blame to the media and said his order was designed to offer parents and school districts “complete flexibility” about returning students to classrooms.
But the order, which Corcoran issued July 6 as coronavirus cases soared in Florida, said all school districts must reopen brick-and-mortar schools at least five days a week starting in August, unless local and state health officials direct otherwise.
Board of Education member Michael Olenick offered the sharpest criticism Wednesday, saying there appeared to be a “disconnect” between what Corcoran was saying and what the order stated and called on him to rescind the part of the order that requires brick-and-mortar schools to reopen next month.
“If, in fact, they have flexibility, and we’re acknowledging their statutory role to determine (reopening decisions) in their district, then let’s say clearly that there is no brick-and-mortar requirement and that we are leaving it up to the districts,” Olenick said.
Corcoran, however, said the provision will not be removed because parents need flexibility to send their children back to school campuses, which were shuttered in March after the pandemic hit the state. Children finished the spring in online classes.
“Part of the flexibility is, if a parent would like to have their child in a brick-and-mortar classroom with a teacher in front of them five days a week, they absolutely should have that option, and it will not come out of the emergency order,” Corcoran said.
Olenick, an appointee of former Gov. Rick Scott, also criticized Corcoran for rolling out the order without first discussing it with the board. He added that the timing of the order appears to be “political in many people’s eyes.”
Corcoran, a former House speaker who was tapped by Gov. Ron DeSantis to serve as commissioner, issued the emergency order on the same day President Donald Trump tweeted that, “SCHOOL MUST OPEN THIS FALL!” Corcoran retweeted Trump’s message that day, but on Wednesday he told board members the order was “weeks in the offing” and was not coordinated with the president, a close ally of DeSantis.
Board member Tom Grady, a former House member, said he thought the order was “timely” and “spot on” because he thinks it’s important people understand that kids are being harmed by not being in classrooms.
“So, the question is: How do we weigh a clear threat to a young child’s education against a murky risk to their health?” Grady said. “I think it’s essential that people understand that kids are harmed by not being in school and the support that that order will give the districts in making their own individual determinations is essential.”
Department of Education Chief of Staff Alex Kelly told the board that the order has a “few layers of flexibility,” which include allowing school districts to make reopening decisions in consultation with local and state health experts.
“Nothing in the order is going beyond that key consultation,” Kelly said, adding that if a school reopens, parents will still have the option to send their kids back or opt for online learning through the fall.
Kelly said the order has also given school districts “financial certainty” because it allows them to calculate their attendance using the various models of instruction available.
Because the state’s education finance system is heavily based on the number of students enrolled during a week in October, the order is waiving the requirement and noted funding will be based on pre-coronavirus enrollment numbers.
Board of Education member Marva Johnson said that while she appreciates the flexibility, the state needs to work on its “messaging and clarity” about what it will require school districts to do next month because she has heard from many people who remain confused.
“I don’t think it is for a lack of our teams’ efforts,” Johnson said. “I’m just trying to figure out how we can help cut through some of the morass and some of the confusion, and I think parents are having to suffer through it in the process.”
Board member Ben Gibson agreed with Johnson that the order has led to confusion and angst among parents.
“A lot of the angst is that the state, and the commissioner in particular, has come out and said schools have to be open and we are ordering it as a one-size-fits all,” Gibson said. “But what I am hearing from you is that there is a lot of flexibility.”
DeSantis has faced similar pushback this week about his messaging on reopening schools.
During a roundtable discussion Tuesday with mayors in Miami-Dade County, the governor said schools should reopen because children are at a lower risk of infection and transmission of COVID-19, the disease that had infected 15,014 Florida children under the age of 14 as of Wednesday.
“That is just something that I think we should understand,” the governor said. “It is a serious pathogen overall, but for some reason, the kids are at lower risk.”
Miami Gardens Mayor Oliver Gilbert III told the governor he is concerned about that message, adding that, “when you say there’s minimal risk, the conversation goes terribly different if one child contracts COVID-19 in a school and dies.”
Miami-Dade County is home to the fourth largest school district in the country with roughly 350,000 students. Miami-Dade Superintendent of Schools Alberto Carvalho has said the system will not reopen Aug. 24 if the conditions are the same as they are today.
Miami Beach Mayor Dan Gelber told the governor on Tuesday that he was also concerned about sending school employees and older high school students back to campuses.
“We shouldn’t be sending mandates out into the world because that telegraphs one thing that we don’t want to telegraph, which is ‘Go ahead. It’s fine. The green light is out,’” Gelber said. “I don’t think it is helpful.”
On Wednesday, DeSantis attended the State Board of Education meeting, and while he did not take questions or discuss the state’s push to reopen schools, he addressed safety concerns for adults who work in schools.
“The best interest of the child is paramount, but we also understand that there are a lot of adults who are working in our school system … and I think it is paramount that there is a safe environment for everybody — not just the kids,” the governor said.
DeSantis said Corcoran is working with districts to ensure a safe environment for adults and children and said schools should offer special accommodations for employees and students with underlying medical conditions.
“I’m confident it can be done because I’ve seen it done in other areas of life over the past several months,” the governor said. “It does take effort, it takes attention to some of the risks involved.”
— News Service Assignment Manager Tom Urban contributed to this report.
Great…let us put the lives of our children at risk and have them become superspreaders to their parents and the community. The science is unknown at this point because schools closed in mid March and everyone has been social distancing My child asked me why the schools closed when Florida had minimal amount of coronavirus cases but want to open when we have over 300000 cases? “Out of the mouth of babies” Do we dare risk the health of our offspring over politics? When kids starting getting really sick we will look back and wonder if it was worth it!
Harold, you simply haven’t listened to any of the published science of C-19 and children. The science IS known. Children could never be “superspreaders” or even “spreaders” to any extent – all known science of C-19 demonstrates children are very UNsusceptible to the virus, nor do they transfer it to other people (adults) easily. The common flu is far more dangerous to children, but we don’t shut down schools yearly at flu season. See Dr.Scott Atlas’ numerous studies and science proof on that issue and also the American Association of Pediatricians, who have issued a very recent study saying children really need to be in schools again, and further warning that the danger of isolation and mask-wearing to children is far, far greater than anything C-19 could possibly present to them.
However, no one is compelling you to send your child to school. Keep them home and isolated if you wish, But don’t dare tell those of us who do send our kids back to school that we can’t. Survival rate for C-19 is 99.6%, so it’s irrational to shut down 100% of society so .4% have no risk. Driving a car daily poses a far greater statistical risk to you and members of your family than C-19 ever could. Living, just by itself, is full of risk. Choose to live, or choose to hide inside – But don’t tell those of us who choose to live that we can’t.
One more thing: Lots of finger pointing and political posturing going on. There are no doubt some good people in education, but it has been overrun with political idiots on both sides. If you have a child, now may be the time to reconsider public education. It simply can’t go on like this.
Between the devastating effects of Common Core math, the current absence of any learning and/or reading thanks to Covid, and the impending hate to be created by the 1619 Project, and these K-12 students don’t stand a chance. Unfortunately, that’s real oppression.
Overwhelming “scientific” evidence shows that reopening schools does not pose a threat to the children, but keeping them closed does. If some teachers (elderly and/or medically vulnerable) need to stay safe at home, then make accommodations for them.
Any other teacher that refuses to return to work, should be given the opportunity to resign and seek another career path. Those that simply refuse to return to work and do not resign, should be terminated on the grounds of Job Abandonment. Reagan had to do it to the ATCs, and Trump May have to do it here as well.
There are plenty of qualified adults who can step up to the plate, read from the textbook, follow the curriculum, and teach our children while we restructure what has become a dangerous, ineffective, and failed Public Indoctrination System.
Right on all points. The known science is that the overwhelming majority of kids do not contract C-19, do not suffer from any symptoms if a few do contract it, nor do they easily transfer the disease to others. In short, there’s very little medical or science-based risk in opening schools again. But there’s very great risk/harm to kids by keeping schools closed. I’m over 65 and would have no fear at all today stepping into a classroom of 35 kids. I was a substitute teacher at one time and frequently was in the classroom with 30 or more elementary-school students at the height of flu season – no problems at all.
Parents aren’t mandated to send their kids to school, and teachers that are age or health-compromised can either get special accomodations to stay home or get another education-related assignment where they’re not in a classroom. Teachers that won’t work should be dismissed to seek other jobs. As you mention, Reagan fired all the ATCs back in the 1980s, willing workers were hired, and the air-travel world went on as usual.
As Dr. Scott Atlas says: “Don’t say you believe in the science and then act to the contrary – either you believe in the science or you don’t.” He cites numerous ongoing studies from the rest of the western world (Europe, Iceland, the British Isles) that already have children back in school and it’s going very well, no C-19 case increases. America is the one Weatern country lagging behind, for no medical or science reasons. Must be a political reason.
By the way, I have two grandchildren now, and I tell my daughter she should put her children in carefully-chosen private schools where she can closely monitor what is taught and what lessons her children bring home. I wouldn’t have my kids in most public schools today – with a few exceptions, many are little more than leftist indoctrination centers. Even the great and good public school teachers are restricted to the leftist curriculum.
I am sure you love Thomas Jefferson though. What werehis thoughts on public schools?
As Dr. Scott Atlas says: “Don’t say you believe in [the Founding Fathers] and then act to the contrary — you either believe in [the Constitution] or you don’t.
You are the smartest guy in the room though. What other nuggets have you got for us?
So wait, when you think you’re behind, or losing, you just give up, take your ball and go home? I know that’s what you did in Vietnam, but the history of America has not been to simply roll over when times get tough or are not going the way you want.
You either think its a good institution for society, or you do not. Which is fine if you dont, but you vehemently disagree with the Founders when you do, and come off as an Anarchist. At that point, just be intellectually honest with others, but most importantly, yourself.
That’s an interesting if rambling and aimless piece of writing. Whatever point you were trying to make was pretty much obscured with all the free-association and bizarre analogies. Great effort, however.