By John Haughey | The Center Square
Many Florida school districts had planned to start the 2020-21 school year Aug. 10, but few will do so – at least, few will meet a state order to open classrooms for full in-person instruction this month.
Palm Beach, Broward and Miami-Dade county schools will offer only online instruction when their schools reopen, tentatively planned for later this month.
Miami-Dade County Public Schools, the nation’s fourth-largest school district with of 392 schools, 345,000 students and more than 40,000 employees, and the School District of Palm Beach County will open schools Aug. 31, about two weeks later than planned.
Broward County Public Schools, the nation’s sixth-largest public school district with more than 262,000 students, plans to reopen for online instruction Aug. 19 before allowing students into classrooms.
Despite pressure from the state and federal governments to open classrooms this month as planned, many Florida public school districts, charters schools and private schools are deciding this week when – and how – they will do so.
Florida Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran ordered the state’s 74 public school districts July 6 to offer “the full panoply of services” and to reopen classrooms as planned in August.
Corcoran’s order ignited a wave of angst, at least two lawsuits, protests and emotional public hearings as school officials, teachers and parents objected to reopening schools amid a sustained COVID-19 outbreak that has intensified since classrooms were shuttered in March, raising questions about the constitutionality of the order.
Gov. Ron DeSantis, conceding the state cannot force school boards to reopen as stated under Corcoran’s order, implored school districts July 22 to open classrooms as soon as possible for in-person instruction and assured parents they did not have to send children into classrooms if they did not want to.
School districts largely were adopting their own plans already, conferring with county and health officials in efforts to get the school year started by offering parents options that include continuing distance learning, a hybrid model with online coursework augmented by in-person instruction and full in-class attendance.
The Orange and Hillsborough county school boards will decide Monday evening when they will open schools and how they will do so.
Last week, Orange County Public Schools, the nation’s ninth-largest school district with more than 200,000 students, extended the deadline for parents to choose curriculum options to Monday.
As of last week, about 29 percent of Orange County parents selected the in-class option, and about 70 percent chose the online option for the children.
At Hillsborough County Public Schools, the eighth-biggest district in the country with nearly 250,000 students, in-school instruction has more support, with 52.7 percent of parents polled saying they are comfortable with returning their children to in-person schooling.
The Hillsborough County School Board rejected total virtual learning for the first nine weeks of school in July. It will decide Monday what services it will offer in-house when it reopens schools, at least a week or two later than the Aug. 10 planned first day of school.
In nearby Pinellas County Schools, more than 63 percent of its 62,372 students are opting to attend in-person classes when schools reopen Aug. 24, not Aug. 10 as planned. About 34 percent of parents, or 33,238 students, have chosen to start the semester online.
Of 9,245 staff members who participated in the district’s July 10 survey, 4,807, or 51.9 percent, said they were comfortable with reopening face-to-face schools.
About 13.6 percent of the district’s 7,500 full-time instructional staff indicated they will not go into classrooms because of a medical reason and another 13.3 percent said they do not feel comfortable returning.
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