Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis announced a plan Thursday that would open K-12 schools in August “at full capacity,” a critical step he says is necessary to stabilize the economy and close an achievement gap widened during the pandemic.
“We have a great opportunity to get back on good footing,” he said during a noon news conference in Melbourne held just after the release of the Florida Department of Education’s 143-page guide. “I know our kids have been in difficult circumstances for the past couple of months.”
While returning to brick-and-mortar schools will be “really important for the well-being of our kids and of our parents who have had to juggle a lot,”
DeSantis said reopening plans should be determined by district school boards.
“We believe those are locally-driven decisions and may look different in Brevard and Miami-Dade than it does in Baker County,” he said.
The plan includes suggestions on how to best use space to maximize social distancing, how to clean and disinfect campuses, how to transport students on buses when social distancing is not possible, best practices for hygiene, and how to handle extracurricular activities.
While the recommendations don’t mandate the use of masks, they call for districts to be supportive of students and staff who choose to wear them and say districts should explore requiring them on school buses. Students who have conditions that make them medically vulnerable should be in segregated classrooms with teachers who wear cloth masks.
DeSantis also outlined during the news conference that Florida private schools and low-income families who use state school choice scholarships will receive $45 million in federal relief funding. The money is part of $173.6 million the state is receiving through the Governor’s Emergency Education Relief Fund. DeSantis said he will set aside $30 million to help lower-income students who receive Florida Tax Credit Scholarships, which are administered by Step Up For Students, which hosts this blog.
Accompanying DeSantis at the event was Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran, who said opening campuses represents an opportunity to help students who fell behind this spring during distance learning.
“There is no better way to educate our children than to have that teacher in front of that child,” he said.
He also cited the need for early intervention to make sure students reach required reading levels in third grade.
“We’re going to start all the way in Pre-K” Corcoran said.
Pinellas County Superintendent Michael Grego and Pasco County Superintendent Kurt Browning also attended the news conference. Grego is the incoming chairman of the Florida Association of District Superintendents, while Browning is the current chairman. The association provided its own recommendations to the state Board of Education last month.