Florida doubles down on in-school learning for students

But state officials also stress importance of giving parents other options

Gov. Ron DeSantis was the special guest who opened up the meeting for the Florida Board of Education Wednesday morning.

HILLSBOROUGH COUNTY, Fla. – Gov. Ron DeSantis was the special guest who opened up the meeting for the Florida Board of Education Wednesday morning.

It is a standard meeting with a long list of agenda items, but what took the spotlight in the first few minutes was the state’s plan to reopen schools and how the state plans to distribute federal CARES Act funds for education.

“I know a lot of parents are trying to figure out what’s going to happen,” DeSantis said about schools reopening. “We are in the midst of a pandemic but we need to provide as many options as possible in terms of education.”

This meeting comes one week after Secretary of Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran issued an emergency order that “all school boards and charter school governing boards must open brick and mortar schools at least five days per week for all students, subject to advice and orders of the Florida Department of Health.”

“I know they are working hard for ways to have a safe environment. I am confident it can be done. I have seen it done,” DeSantis added.

However, DeSantis stressed it is equally as important to offer flexibility for school districts and even parents to decide what option is best for their child, saying if parents don’t feel comfortable sending their child back into a brick-and-mortar classroom, the districts should have other options that will not leave the student behind on any achievement gaps.

“I think it’s important parents have the ability to make a choice,” DeSantis said.

Many school districts in Central Florida are scrambling to finalize their reopening plans to send back to the state. Florida Department of Education Board Member Michael Olenick criticized Corcoran’s executive order, which came out hours after President Donald Trump tweeted “SCHOOLS MUST OPEN IN THE FALL!!!”

“Here’s the problem, the emergency order focuses specifically on brick-and-mortar schools shall be open for five days unless you opt out. That is the problem. That is what caused confusion,” Olenick said at the meeting. “What needs to happen, we or you, commissioner, need to rescind that five days a week, because what I’m hearing today about flexibility and all the things we are doing to help them is contrary.”

Corocoan responded that he will not take out the language that brick-and-mortar schools should open five days a week, saying just as there needs to be flexibility with virtual learning, parents need that flexibility of in-person learning as well.

“I can’t control when or what the president tweets,” Corcoran said. “If their parent would like to have their child in a brick-and-mortar five days a week they absolutely will have that option and it will not come out of the order.”

The meeting then continued with the regular agenda items. No word if there will be a public comment period but a small group of protesters gathered outside the meeting as it happened.