By John Haughey | The Center Square
Florida will continue full funding for remote instruction for the state’s 2.9 million K-12 students next semester as a continuing pandemic alternative to attending in-person classes in brick-and-mortar schools.
The Florida Department of Education (FDOE) released Monday its updated emergency order for the school year’s second semester, which begins in January.
School districts will provide online curriculum but also must continue to offer face-to-face classes, as required since July.
Gov. Ron DeSantis and Florida Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran introduced the updated emergency order Monday during a news conference at Boggy Creek Elementary School in Kissimmee.
DeSantis said all parents should have a choice to enroll students in either online learning programs or in-person classes, which will remain available even as the state closes in on 1 million COVID-19 cases and 18,500 deaths since March.
DeSantis called those who want schools closed during the pandemic “flat earthers.”
“I would say that closing schools due to coronavirus is probably the biggest public health blunder in modern American history,” he said. “Schools are a safe place to be.”
Corcoran’s July 6 order, which mandated all schools reopen in August with “the full panoply” of in-person services, expires in December.
The revised order is a “collaborative effort” and reflects “significant improvement based on our first 90, 100 days in school,” Corcoran told Florida's State Board of Education on Nov. 18.
Under the July order, the state fully funded online students at the same rate it does for those attending in-person classes, a temporary pandemic-induced policy change that some parents, educators and doctors feared would not be extended in Corcoran’s revised rules.
The Florida Association of District School Superintendents (FADSS), Florida PTA and Florida Education Association (FEA), the state’s largest teachers union, had appealed to Corcoran and DeSantis to extend full funding for online programs next semester.
Under the revised order, the state will continue to fund school districts’ online learning programs for parents who opt not to send their children to brick-and-mortar classrooms next semester.
Parents of about 40% of the state’s 2.9 million K-12 students have opted to not send their children into schools, instead enrolling them in district-run online options in greater numbers than the Department of Education's Virtual School program.
The DOE’s new order will require schools to provide plans for how they will address emerging issues with students struggling with online learning. School districts are reporting high percentages of children in online courses earning at least one failing grade.
The updated guidance requires schools to alert parents if their children are not “making adequate progress” in online classes and have the children transition to in-person learning unless their parents opt out of that choice.
“The data and the evidence are overwhelmingly clear,” DeSantis said, “virtual learning is just not the same as” in-person instruction.
Under the new order, districts and charter schools must submit intervention plans in reading and math to the DOE that target individual students’ learning needs. Schools that do not expect to continue offering the “innovative” e-learning systems will not have to turn in a plan, under the rules.
“Any plans for interventions that will continue into Summer 2021 for students with widening grade-level deficiencies must be identified in Spring Intervention Plans,” the order states.
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