Plan to reopen schools during COVID-19 leaves plenty up to local discretion

Sarasota District Schools, Transportation. Photo from Facebook page, Sarasota District Schools, Transportation.

A committee of educators has recommended continued use of digital learning, boosting mental health resources, smaller class sizes, and moving teachers instead of students to limit spread of COVID-19 when Florida reopens its public schools.

The panel, in releasing its recommendations Tuesday, left ample room for districts and schools to individually respond to the disease if schools reopen.

“These recommendations are meant as a foundation, as a floor to discussions on how to reopen schools. They are a conversation starter with input from the people who know our students and schools best,” Fedrick Ingram, president of the Florida Education Association, said in a written statement.

That union and the United Faculty of Florida organized a team of stakeholders, public officials, and educators to create the Statewide Committee to Safely Reopen Florida’s Public Schools.

A portion of this committee focused on PreK-12 education and released written recommendations during in a press conference. A second press conference is scheduled Wednesday to release the plan for higher education.

In addition to the previous recommendations from these meetings — such as supplying ample personal protective equipment and mental and emotional support for teachers and students — the PreK-12 committee recommended employees receive training on how to use digital platforms and that teachers move from classroom-to-classroom, rather than students.

The committee recommended against cutting funding for the arts and electives but argued that major standardized tests be suspended.

There are more than a dozen pages of recommendations, but Ingram said that the PreK-12 committee wants to ensure each district has room to address its own needs.

“What we didn’t want to do was bottle a district into one corner and say ‘You must do this,’” he said. “There are going to be many different ways in getting it right.”

The panel suggested schools provide learning alternatives not limited to digital classrooms, including that they “seek policy waivers on number of student days, length of day, length of year, to allow for hybrid models or split scheduling for schools to ensure smaller classes and social distancing.”

Ingram said the state should provide a broad set of options so that principals, superintendents, and school board members can decide how their districts move forward.

He said that the PreK-12 committee wanted to “provide a floor” for their recommendations for schools reopening and “not a ceiling.”

Danielle J. Brown
Danielle J. Brown is a 2018 graduate of Florida State University, majoring in English with a focus in editing, writing, and media. While at FSU, she served as an editorial intern for International Program’s annual magazine, Nomadic Noles. Last fall, she fulfilled another editorial internship with Rowland Publishing, where she wrote for the Tallahassee Magazine, Emerald Coast Magazine, and 850 Business Magazine. She was born and raised in Tallahassee and reviews community theater productions for the Tallahassee Democrat. She spends her downtime traveling to all corners of Florida and beyond to practice lindy hop.