Amid confusion over state instructions, some FL districts are extending spring break, keeping kids out of school longer

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Some Florida public school districts are extending spread break by one week. Photo credit: Pixabay.

Amid some confusion over who ordered what, some Florida school districts announced Friday night they are extending their spring breaks by one week in response to state and federal guidance about the spread of coronavirus.

The Florida Department of Education announced Friday that Commissioner Richard Corcoran “provided strong recommendations” county by county on Friday.

Statements on social media, TV news and elsewhere that Corcoran in a call with school superintendents on Friday ordered statewide closures through March 30 appear to have been in error, along with statements that Gov. Ron DeSantis issued such an order.

The DOE’s recommendations, not orders, cite the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s guidance specific to Florida to self-isolate as COVID-19, the respiratory illness caused by the new coronavirus, quickly spreads.

The CDC recommended that Florida “consider extending spring breaks for schools,” among other measures. The DOE recommendations also include optional postponement of statewide testing and other large, school-related gatherings.

Public schools in Miami Dade, Hillsborough County, Duval County, Orange County and Leon County are among the ones announcing on their websites and social-media accounts that they will expand spring breaks to two weeks, rather than the regularly scheduled one.

School districts appear to be free to choose whether to implement the DOE’s recommendations and many don’t have coronavirus cases. The most recent state health department data show 21 of Florida’s 67 counties have coronavirus cases, meaning individuals were tested positive for COVID-19. At least half the cases are in South Florida.

Closing schools is a decision that impacts not only instruction but issues such as childcare, parent work schedules and nutrition — hundreds of thousands of students, particularly those living in poverty, rely on breakfast and lunch meals served at school for nutrition.

Also, districts do not all schedule spring break for the same week, so closure intervals will vary.

Some, such as Duval County, were on break last week and will extend the break through March 23. Others are scheduled to begin break next week and will extend through March 30, and there are other variations.

Orange County is among the districts announcing on their websites that district staff are disinfecting schools during spring break, extended or otherwise, and are beefing up their distance-learning programs in case of prolonged school closures.

Hillsborough and others cited free internet services being offered to students and staff by local vendors.

Leon County posted on Facebook that it is coordinating with Second Harvest of the Big Bend and United Way of the Big Bend to “feed as many students as possible” during the school closure.

Typical of the confusion about school closures Friday, Orange County stated on its Facebook page early Friday that classes would resume as normal on March 23 after that district’s spring break. It cited the need to retain “a sense of normalcy” in the community despite the epidemic and the need to feed 61,000 students whose “main source of nutrition” is the meals they get at school.

Following a conference call a few hours later, Orange County and several other districts posted that the Department of Education unofficially “announced all schools will close for one additional week beyond their spring break and will return on March 30.”

If that is what DOE told superintendents, it did not issue the same message in its official DOE announcement.