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.”
–Ana Ceballos, Tom Urban News Service of Florida
Lance Carroll says
I simply, as a parent of a school aged child, “think” it’s a bit risky to jump into the snake pit while elected folks “think” it’s ok for a few or more to get bit…it’s only a few or more bucks from the budget…a few votes. Wondering if these elected officials have school aged children and, if so, where will their children be attending school this coming school season? I opt out of campus school for my school aged child. I am looking forward to embracing her home school education, no matter how many paychecks I miss. That’s something to bank on…stay healthy folks! Your life depends upon it.
How exactly are children being harmed by not being in classrooms? That is the most asinine thing i have heard. Children learn in home school situations all the time all across the country, they are not “harmed”. Their is still a way to learn through online remote learning. Very simple solution ,plus its way more economical.
Mike Cocchiola says
Florida parents, teachers. school staff, school superintendents and school boards… lives are at stake. RESIST!
CB from PC says
An uneducated ignorant kid is a certain parties next voting generation.
Open the brick and mortar Schools or cut off the paychecks of the employees.
They have had since March to decide if. the risk (and you can only mitigate, not eliminate risk), is worth continuing in their career choice.
Nowhere have I seen how kids whose parents cannot afford daycare or Internet (due to job loss), or kids who live where there is no ISP, are supposed to access classes.
Lance Carroll says
It’s called homeschool. There is actually no need to access internet. At the same time, closure of schools would free up a certain amount of funds to provide internet to areas out of signal rangeand/or families that lack funds for online education? It’s called school tax. I believe every property owner pays that within property taxes. Does anybody have real numbers on the amount of fuel and labor goes into the bussing of students to and from schools? The budget of food service at schools? The difference in insurance costs while no students are present versus students present on campuses? I bet the numbers are big..
Weldon B. Ryan says
Not socializing? Don’t these kids play video games online with their friends and speak to each other? That’s crap that our kids don’t socialize and is harmed by stayong home! Keep your little buggers home and stay healthy!
Deirdre Rutledge says
The schools are not safe! When students return Florida our COVID-19 numbers will go from 10-15,000 a day to AT LEAST 10 times that, and this means their family members, teachers, and other adults are obviously going to be exposed can become desperately ill and possibly die.
Do we want to take the chance that some of our children will become orphans? Do we want to take the chance that some of our students will also get very sick, and possibly die? Do we want to take the chance that teachers won’t be able to teach because they’re sick and we don’t have enough subs? This is the reality of the situation, because when this starts to happen we’re going back to virtual teaching anyway, and we are needlessly creating a situation that won’t work for a short period of time, the consequences of this are horrendous.
Many parents that work feel they have no other options, especially if they have young children.
They do have other options that have not been considered, such as giving older students that can babysit ‘on the job training‘ or community service hours for being with the younger students and having them work together with online classes.
We need to brainstorm options that work, this is just one that I thought of, but we can look at other areas that have made virtual learning work also.
Let’s not make this about politics or money, it’s about the well-being of all Floridians; our lives are at stake.
These children can learn online as long as they show up! We can do attendance that way and get our funding as well until the Covid numbers are under control.
Florida is the epicenter of this virus practically globally! It’s insane to put more people at risk by sending millions of children back in school.
Please consider this; we’re telling their parents this is safe and it’s not; do you really believe every child will wear a mask all day, especially when they don’t have any consequences for not doing so? Do you really believe we can disinfect every single surface they come into contact with all day every day?
It’s impossible, and parents need to know that before they send their children to school in August. This is about life and death.
Meanwhile. . . . here is the gist of the trump interview with Chris Wallace of FOX on Sunday. Chris Wallace FACT Checked trump along the way. . . here is the mentality of a FAILED president:
For the first time, Trump was not allowed to ramble, change the subject, exaggerate or repeat his oft-repeated lies. He tried, but Wallace challenged him, corrected him, fact-checked him and badgered him into answering the question — leaving Trump flustered, confused, angry, baffled and unable to substantiate any one of his standard big lies.
On the coronavirus, for example, Trump again insisted the United States has done more testing and has a lower mortality rate than any other country — which Wallace showed is demonstrably not true. Trump also showed a stunning lack of knowledge about how bad things are and lack of concern for victims of the disease.
He baffled public health officials by claiming that many cases amount to nothing more than a bad case of the “sniffles,” that will “heal in a day.” He again insisted that the “Chinese virus” would someday “disappear.” “I’ll be right, eventually,” he bragged, as if he were talking about the Astros winning another World Series “eventually” — showing no empathy for those who might die in the meantime. In fact, pressed by Wallace for his reaction to over 140,000 deaths from COVID-19 so far, the best Trump could offer was, “It is what it is.”
On the Black Lives Matter movement, Trump doubled down in opposition. He again claimed, wrongly, that whites were as likely to be victims of police abuse as Blacks. He defended the Confederate flag, insisting it has nothing to do with racism. He vowed to block any attempt by the Pentagon to remove the names of Confederate generals from military bases in the South. “I don’t care what the military says,” Trump told Wallace. He also twice charged that former Vice President Joe Biden had publicly called for defunding the police, which Wallace again showed was not true.
AND ON, AND ON, AND ON. . . . thousands endure pain and suffering and death every day, and all the president can do is FAIL and blame anyone/everyone else for his FAILURE. YES, he wants to be a dictator and control everything, but without being “responsible” for anything!