TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (Cap News Services/WESH) — Florida plans to give parents the choice of keeping students in remote learning for the spring semester of the school year.
Florida Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran made the announcement on Wednesday morning during a Florida Board of Education meeting in Tallahassee.
“We will have full parental choice in the first emergency order and our subsequent emergency order. The governor will take nothing less,” Corcoran said.
His comments come as COVID-19 cases in the state continue to rise, and some schools switch to virtual learning due to virus spread. All the while, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has remained quiet on a further direction.
The reopening of brick-and-mortar classrooms, which were shuttered during the early stages of the pandemic this spring, became a political flashpoint after Corcoran ordered school districts to offer in-person instruction five days a week or be penalized financially.
The current order allows districts to receive the same level of funding for students who opt for distance learning as those attending in person, as long as they also provide brick and mortar options.
Florida Education Association President Andrew Spar said that flexibility has been critical.
“If that funding goes away there’s no way districts can offer that option and parents will either have to use a traditional virtual platform such as Florida Virtual School or what districts have in their own virtual programs. Or they will have to send them back to brick and mortar,” said Spar.
The Commissioner said his next emergency order will still provide parents the option of virtual learning, but he didn’t commit to continue funding virtual students the same as those attending class in person.
“We’re going through that right now and working with the districts,” said Corcoran.
That lack of commitment troubles the teachers union.
“Districts need the flexibility. Parents need the flexibility,” said Spar.
Corcoran did mention he wants to ensure students who fall behind in virtual learning can easily transition to in-person classes, or at the very least get additional help.
“If they’re going to stay for medical reasons in that modality. What are the interventions? And we want to see them and know them,” said Corcoran.
Commissioner Corcoran added standardized testing will go forward next semester to identify achievement gaps the pandemic may have widened.
DeSantis and Corcoran have maintained that families need to have the option of choosing face-to-face instruction or distance learning for children, arguing that keeping students away from school can have damaging impacts on students’ physical safety, mental health and educational progress.
Commissioner Corcoran said he hopes to have the order finalized before Thanksgiving, or at the latest by the end of the month.
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