Education Commissioner Orders Florida Schools to Reopen in August

On Monday, June 6, Florida education commissioner Richard Corcoran issued an emergency order aimed at reopening schools in the fall. The Commissioner ordered public schools to reopen in August and offer “the full panoply of services” to students and families. The order stipulates that parents have the option of either sending their children back to school for in-person classes or online if they wish. 

As coronavirus numbers continue to rise in the state of Florida, new measures are being put in place to continue to stop the spread of the virus. Despite this, mandates were put in place by Commissioner Corcoran to open schools back up in the fall. The commissioner states reason being is because extending the school closures can impede the student’s educational success. Corcoran also stated his reasons for wanting to open schools back up as soon as possible so parents and guardians can also return to work.

The state’s education finance plan is based heavily on the number of students sitting in classrooms during a week in October. It also depends on the number of hours children have attended over the course of each semester. Corcoran’s order waives the October count requirement, allowing districts to calculate their attendance using all the various models of instruction available. Because enrollment numbers could impact per-student funding for public schools, the order says that school districts and charter school governing boards with approved reopening plans will be offered “reporting flexibility” to ensure their funds are not interrupted during the 2020 fall semester.

Those plans, which do not yet have a deadline, must include specifics about how the schools will provide appropriate services to students with special education needs, such as disabilities and language deficits. Schools must provide the full array of support required in law, said Jacob Oliva, Executive Vice Chancellor of K12 in the Division of Public Schools at the Florida Department of Education.

Corcoran’s order also instructs school districts to follow the advice of state and local health officials as well as executive orders issued by Governor Ron DeSantis. The Republican governor and Corcoran, a former Florida House speaker, have been determined to reopen public schools at full capacity next month, even as state health officials have reported a minimum of 5,000 new COVID-19 cases in each of the last 13 days.

Teachers are concerned about their safety, according to Florida Education Association President Fedrick Ingram. Ingram is head of the state’s top teachers’ union and stressed that students and school employees “need to be at the center of our conversations about reopening schools.” 

Under the order issued Monday, school districts and charter-school governing boards are required to submit reopening plans to the Department of Education showing how all schools plan to fully reopen and offer all services to students.

Monday’s mandate also waives “strict compliance” with a Florida law requiring schools to operate for at least 180 days, “to the extent necessary to give effect to this order.” And the order waives a state law requiring “school districts to have a uniform and fixed date for the opening and closing of schools. Under the emergency order, all public schools will be required to reopen in August for at least five days a week.