During a visit to a Sarasota charter school, Gov. Ron DeSantis boasted about keeping in-person classes running all year in Florida. Several teachers sharing the stage with him stressed the challenges of teaching both in-person and online.
As part of a tour touting teacher bonuses, DeSantis and Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran were greeted at a pep rally-style event at Sarasota School of Arts & Sciences. The Republican leaders both boasted about the wisdom in forcing every school district to make in-person learning available five days a week
“Florida did it the right way,” DeSantis said. “The places that locked kids out of school didn’t stand by parents.”
Notably, Florida did lockdown schools last spring after the coronavirus first surfaced in the state and kept them closed through the end of the school year. But when the new year started, a requirement was put in place that every district make in-classroom education available. Some schools still fought that in court.
Corcoran said data then showed reopening the schools was safe, but only Florida showed the leadership to do it.
“Still in 49 states, in massive pockets of the country here, kids still cannot step on a school campus,” he said. As this year closes, Corcoran said he has gone from thinking requiring remote learning was “tragic” to believe it’s “criminal.”
As summer approached, DeSantis said about 85% of Sarasota County students are back to in-school learning.
But the teachers telling their story on stage discussed the challenges of teaching many students at home who were still remote learning at the start of the year, with many still doing so now.
“I learned to teach kids who weren’t in school,” said teacher Marissa Dobbert, who made friends in the IT department from speaking to so frequently about the technical challenges.”
Kevin Corwin, head of the math department, has been teaching 21 years, 11 at SSAS.
“This was my first year teaching,” he said, noting hybrid instruction effectively made the year a brand-new experience even for veteran educators.
“We adapted by finding ways to use technology,” said teacher Kathleen Ferry, “so students would have equal access to resources no matter where they are learning from.”
DeSantis promised in his speech to leave $200 million in the budget when he signs it to fund $1,000 bonuses for every teacher and principal in public schools, including charter schools.
DeSantis also noted that an increase in minimum teacher pay went into effect this year. Even in Sarasota County, one of the highest-paying districts in the state for teachers, that meant the low end for educator salaries went up by roughly $3,000.