State education leaders spoke optimistically Wednesday about Florida’s ability to ready schools, colleges and universities for students to return to campuses amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
In a webinar hosted by the James Madison Institute, state education experts described the return as an opportunity for growth for students, teachers and learning at all levels.
“I think this pandemic has provided somewhat of an academic reset,” said Erika Donalds, president and CEO of The Optima Foundation.”We in Florida, the school choice state, have an opportunity here to innovate quickly and provide options to families. “This is a tremendous opportunity to meet students’ needs exactly where they are and listen to parents about what is going to be best for their children.”
Florida Public Schools Chancellor Jacob Oliva said public schools are making efforts to stay connected with students through summer learning programs and other initiatives.
“Our school campuses almost really never closed,” said Oliva. “Even though we may not have students on there every single day actively participating in learning, a lot of our schools are where families go to get meals, they get their lunches, and stay connected with the community. So getting schools ready back here in the Fall to be reopened is something we’ve been working since we flipped the switch back in March.”
Oliva applauded Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran and Gov. Ron DeSantis for their emphasis on local control.
“These policies can’t be a one size fits all when you have a state the size of Florida serving the many different kinds of learners and families that we have and the different communities we make up,” Oliva added.
At the college level, Florida College System Chancellor Kathy Hebda said much of their focus has centered on helping students thrive through the pandemic by addressing student learning and managing gaps in instruction.
“So many people need to up-skill and re-skill,” Hebda said. “If they were in the tourism industry and the hospitality industry and things aren’t going to open as quickly there as they may in some other sectors, they need to do something different for employment and there are plenty of jobs out there in healthcare and engineering and other places that are essential services that people can qualify for and get qualified for in a relatively short amount of time.”
Hebda added that colleges typically see an increase in enrollment during economic recessions. She conceded, however, that this is not a typical recession.
“The increases across institutions are not uniform,” Hebda said. “It still does remain to be seen exactly how much and which institutions will have significant increases and some of that may vary by programs and geographic area.”
Last week, Corcoran ordered public schools to reopen in August and offer “the full panoply of services” to students and families.
Under the emergency order, all public schools will be required to reopen in August for at least five days a week and to provide the full array of services required by law, including in-person instruction and services for students with special needs.
Corcoran’s order also instructs school districts to follow the advice of state and local health officials as well as executive orders issued by DeSantis.