The state is jettisoning testing for children in its preschool programs and K-12 schools because of the increased anxiety over the spread of the novel coronavirus, Gov. Ron DeSantis announced Tuesday evening.
It’s also extending the number of weeks kids will remain off-campus, not returning until at least April 15.
The number of coronavirus, or COVID-19, cases in the state has risen as testing ramps up. Health officials announced Tuesday evening that the state had 216 positive cases, with 195 of them coming from Floridians in the state. Officials announced another death, bringing the official number of fatalities to seven.
Fort Lauderdale Mayor Dean Trantalis said Tuesday that three people have died at two long-term care facilities but that the state only has test results for one of the people. Test results for the other two are pending, Trantalis told reporters.
But Florida health officials on Tuesday stopped short of confirming Trantalis’ comments.
State Surgeon General Scott Rivkees noted that while authorities had concluded that one death was due to the virus, he would only say they were investigating another death at the same facility.
“We have one confirmed individual who passed from COVID-19, and all other individuals who have symptoms for that who have passed away are being evaluated,” Rivkees said.
Most school districts will start virtual learning through online school or paper assignments delivered home on March 30. Most students are currently on an extra-long spring break officials announced last week. But four school districts — Duval, Collier, Union and Sumter — had already started their spring breaks and will start distance learning on March 23. Those districts have been experimenting with having school bus drivers deliver paper assignments to some of the younger students who may not be able to learn as well electronically as some of the older students.
The state is pausing all metrics for schools and students. Graduation, promotion to the next grade, and final grades will be decided as if that testing did not exist. DeSantis says parents will be allowed to keep their kids in the same grades for the 2020-2021 school year if they wish. A school in turnaround status won’t have this year count against it.
“Let’s say that this thing is arrested and things get better, in April maybe kids are back,” DeSantis said. “It’s our position … that we’re not going to ramp then and do the testing. That’ll be true whether it’s virtual or they are back in school.”
After April 15, the state will re-evaluate to see whether schools can start letting kids back on campus, Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran said. But he emphasized that he expects students to still get a full year’s worth of learning, despite being able to reduce K-12 instructional hours to provide for the closures because of the new coronavirus, which causes the respiratory disease COVID-19. He says school districts should be prepared to extend their educational calendars through June 30 if necessary.
Florida Education Association President Fedrick Ingram told The News Service of Florida in a phone interview that he applauds the Governor’s efforts to keep students from coming to school and to waive testing requirements.
“It is going to be a new world out there for the next 60 days,” Ingram said. “At the end of the day, I want people to know things are going to be different, but know we are trying to do our best.”
Corcoran says the Voluntary Pre-Kindergarten Program already has 10-to-1 teacher-to-student ratios, so those in-person classes can continue. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is recommending people not gather in groups of 10 or more.
Eligibility for Florida Bright Futures scholarships shall be based on available data and results, the Florida Department of Education said.
DOE will use testing funds to help low-income students purchase digital devices and establish Internet services. K-12 school districts are also allowed to redirect additional unspent dollars to help low-income students purchase virtual equipment and services. Schools can also set up telephonic mental health counseling services for students who need emotional support because of COVID-19 concerns.
All school readiness, voluntary prekindergarten, K-12, career and technical centers and state college programs will receive their full funding.
There were also changes to the school year for college and university students announced Tuesday. Four University of Florida students have now tested positive for the new coronavirus and university campuses will close for the remainder of the semester.
The university asked students who have not yet returned home to do so and for employees who can to work from home. University of Florida President Kent Fuchs said classes will go online in compliance with the Governor’s order.
“All students and employees are strongly urged to practice social distancing in their studies, work and personal lives. Your health and safety is our top priority,” he said in a statement.
The Board of Governors has directed all state universities to do online classes through the rest of the spring semester. It’s also encouraging, but not requiring the schools to teach online for the early summer courses. The BOG is also canceling May on-campus graduation ceremonies. Universities are to develop an alternate schedule or method of delivering the commencement.
Corcoran said state colleges are also implementing online learning for the rest of the semester.
DeSantis, meanwhile, gave a strong endorsement for having the federal government send financial assistance to Floridians as quickly as possible. The idea has gained traction in Washington as the nation’s economy is under assault by shutdowns and disruptions caused by the outbreak.
“We have people living paycheck to paycheck,” said DeSantis, who said he had spoken to U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio earlier in the day about the concept.
The News Service of Florida contributed to this report.