Florida Commissioner of Education Richard Corcoran is ordering Monroe County officials to open public schools in the Florida Keys for full-time, in-person teaching.
Monroe County Superintendent Theresa Axford announced her school district — which oversees the Keys — would be offering full-time, face-to-face instruction by the end of March. Elementary schools have been allowing that option to parents since September. But many middle and high school students have been working in a program offering part-time in-person learning mixed with remote teaching.
Corcoran’s office is threatening to bar the district from certain state funds if all students are not given a full-time option. Axford says the district will comply, but she made clear the move posed challenges and was being done because of an order from the state.
“We are working out the details of how to do this as safely and quickly as we can,” Axford said in a Saturday press release.
“Distancing will definitely be the most difficult issue we will deal with. Masks, hand washing, sanitizing, and all the other safety measures currently in place will, of course, remain as crucial parts of our safe return to school.”
Corcoran’s order comes amid a nationwide debate on the best way to open schools safely during the COVID-19 pandemic. Research has shown schools are not a serious contributor to spreading the disease, and the CDC has said schools can open safely without a requirement that teachers be vaccinated.
Florida recently opened the vaccine to teachers of all ages. However, some advocates are still pushing for the state to guarantee vaccine access to additional school staff.
The district hasn’t landed on a specific start date, and there will be flexibility for some students within the plan. “Parents will still have the option of keeping their older students who are currently on an A/B schedule on that schedule if they wish to do so,” reads a section of that Saturday release.
The Superintendent’s office will be reaching out to parents via a survey to gauge how many families prefer to remain on an alternating day schedule and how many plan to return full-time.
As detailed by Keys Weekly, Axford issued a separate announcement in an email to Keys families, where she singled out pressure from some parents as a catalyst for the changes.
“We have been aware of a group of parents who have been pursuing this five-day, in-person option, but we believed that we were working with them to resolve their concerns. They apparently have been calling the Commissioner on a regular basis to complain,” Axford wrote.
“We have met with principals and have asked them to set up teams in schools to revisit classroom lay-outs to maintain as much distance as possible and to relook at how we can make teachers and students safe. We are literally being ordered to do this and have no recourse at this time. Please forgive me for having to share this news.”
Corcoran’s office originally pushed Monroe to offer full-time learning for all public students by March 15, but Monroe County officials are seeking a date closer to the end of the month after a COVID-19 outbreak among transportation workers.