81ºF

Education forum focuses on Florida schools reopening for the fall amid coronavirus

State, education leaders discuss plans

Despite the coronavirus pandemic, in less than two months, schools across Florida are expected to reopen at full capacity for students.

GrayRobinson, a lobbying firm and law firm, hosted prominent state leaders, including Office of Gov. Ron DeSantis Director of Policy Chris Spencer, Florida Department of Education Chief of Staff J. Alex Kelly, and Hillsborough County Schools Superintendent Addison Davis as part of a virtual forum to discuss how fall reopening would work.

In a news conference one week ago, Gov. Ron DeSantis and Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran announced that they plan to reopen schools for in-person learning in the fall of 2020.

Both the commissioner and governor said the funding would be allocated so summer programs could open for in-person learning this year as well.

[MORE COVERAGE: Central Florida school districts respond to state plan to reopen schools in August | Already at-risk Florida students face greatest learning gaps due to coronavirus school closures]

While the governor said he believed Florida has one of the most effective distance-learning programs in the state, he said there is no true replacement for face-to-face learning between students and teachers.

Under his plan to reopen schools, DeSantis outlines phases in which he would do so, much like his phased plan to reopen the state as a whole:

Step 1: June – open up campuses for youth activities and summer camps

Step 2: July – expand campus capacities further for summer recovery instruction

Step 3: August – open up campuses at full capacity for traditional start of the academic year

All reopening steps would include provisions for students, staff and faculty to follow health and safety guidelines set forth by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, including practicing social distancing when possible, frequent hand washing and symptom monitoring.

The governor also announced that he would be using federal dollars through the CARES Act to fund the return of students to classrooms.

“No one knows what the future has in store but as long as you have a plan for it, that’s the best way to move forward,” Spencer said at Thursday’s forum.

Hillsborough County Schools Superintendent Addision Davis detailed how his district has enough personal protective equipment for now.

"As we get through the first three or four months with the stockpile we have purchased, there will be or could be a supply chain," he said. "It can become problematic."

Plans are in place for the state Department of Emergency Management to provide PPE to districts who need it, as part of a broader plan to prepare for possible positive cases.

"Ultimately we have to have a plan to maximize learning as much as possible if in the unfortunate instance, students in a classroom, school building, entire school, have to close for a day, two days, a week, whatever the case may be," Kelly said. "Recommendations are really meant to be locally driven."

The forum also touched on the lack of a requirement for wearing masks, after school programs, and the idea of daily screenings.

The first day of school for many in Florida is set for August 10.


About the Author: