BREVARD COUNTY, Fla. – Local school district and teachers union representatives say a new state order requiring public schools to physically open in August likely will not impact Brevard County’s school reopening plan, News 6 partner Florida Today reported.
The order, signed by Florida Commissioner of Education Richard Corcoran and announced late Monday, requires all brick-and-mortar schools in the state to open five days a week this fall, ensuring students have the option of fully returning to on-campus classes.
The decision drew swift scrutiny from some teachers, parents and school leaders amid a surge in cases of COVID-19 across Florida and thwarted the plans of some school districts to delay openings or begin the year with online-only or blended learning.
However, the order was not expected to have a substantial effect on plans in development by Brevard Public Schools, school district spokeswoman Nicki Hensley said Tuesday.
"It was not a discussion point where we came in this morning and had to reshuffle the deck," Hensley said. "Nothing from the order has caused us to pause and rethink things."
The order does not preclude school districts from offering virtual learning options, and in fact strengthens requirements for online learning. Hensley said Brevard Public Schools will continue to offer online or distance learning for families uncomfortable with sending their kids back into classrooms.
The school district has so far released few details of its reopening plan, which will be discussed publicly for the first time at a school board workshop Thursday. The workshop will be livestreamed on the Brevard Public Schools website and its official social media pages. Brevard Superintendent Mark Mullins will unveil the full plan at the next regular school board meeting, scheduled for July 14.
School Board chairwoman Misty Belford said the order likely "doesn't create a large departure" from plans already falling into place, but it does rule out some options that have gained support among parents.
“There are a lot of parents asking us to stay virtual at the beginning of the year and not go back to brick-and-mortar. That option is off the table at this point,” Belford said. “There was also feedback about a staggered schedule. ... That has been taken off the table.”
While the order sets some boundaries, the final shape of a district's reopening plan still resides with the superintendent or school board in consultation with local health agencies, noted Brevard Federation of Teachers Vice President Vanessa Skipper.
"When it was first released, on its front, it looked like a strong-arm approach ... but I think it still gives some leeway for districts," Skipper said.
"If you really dig deep into the order, it's doing some good things," she said.
Among the order's provisions, it ensures school districts will be funded based on pre-COVID enrollment projections rather than actual student counts, typically done in October and again in the spring. That insulates districts from the loss of per-pupil dollars due to any drop in enrollment from concern about the pandemic, Skipper said.
Still, teachers are worried about returning to the classroom: a recent union poll found about 40%, or two in five Brevard County teachers, self-identified as “high risk” from the virus, while just over half said they lived with a high-risk family member.
Union and district leaders are preparing to go to the bargaining table July 16 with a special emphasis on making sure appropriate health and safety protections are in place, Skipper said.
"Our goal is to teach students as safely as possible," she said.
While the order doesn't change much for Brevard schools, Belford still called the shelving of options "somewhat unnerving."
"Being able to keep our students and staff safe going back is currently keeping me up at night," she said.
“I have serious concerns about having enough teachers, because I think a lot of teachers are uneasy about going back into the classroom with students, and a lot of students are concerned as well.”