Some parents, teachers, push for online learning next semester; 3,146 new COVID cases related to schools

Teacher with students, in a classroom. Credit: Getty Images.

With nearly 22,000 COVID-19 cases related to Florida schools since early September, parents and teachers want the state to continue virtual learning programs next semester so kids don’t have to attend brick-and-mortar schools during the pandemic.

At a Board of Education meeting Wednesday, Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran discussed a revision to an earlier emergency order related to school openings.

Florida Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran in May. Credit: Screenshot, Florida Channel.

He said that there will be “full parental choice” in the coming revision — but it is still unclear what that means for families and how the funding would work.

Board member Michael Olenick specifically asked Corcoran about families who want to know if they can keep their local district virtual learning options after the fall.

Corcoran responded by reiterating families will have “full parental choice.” He added, “I can assure you, Mike, from the top down, that absolutely will happen. There is no flexibility for anything but that.”

However, questions remain on what the modified order will say.

Corcoran suggested that there might be a revised emergency order before Thanksgiving.

The COVID-19 numbers play a part in the concerns of some Florida parents and teachers who are worried that their ability to opt for virtual learning will be limited when Corcoran’s emergency order expires in December.

According to this week’s data from the Florida Department of Health, the week of Nov. 8 through Nov. 14 showed 3,146 COVID-19 new cases related to Florida public and private K-12 schools, colleges and universities.

From universities and colleges, there were 749 cases among students, teachers, staff and others during the second week of November. The remaining 2,397 positive cases during Nov. 8 through Nov. 14 came from Florida’s public and private K-12 schools.

Novel coronavirus SARS CoV2, which causes COVID-19. Microphotography by National Institute on Allergy and Infectious Diseases

Of the 2,397 K-2 cases, the state data shows 1,765 public and private K-12 students who tested positive during Nov. 8 through Nov.14; along with 209 teachers, 109 staff, and 314 other cases.

Since September 6, state data shows at least 21,996 total cases related to Florida public and private K-12 schools, colleges and universities.

The current emergency order, signed by Corcoran back in July, allows school districts to implement “innovative” learning options, such as distance learning platforms and hybrid models, so long that districts also provide a brick-and-mortar option so students will get in-person instruction in traditional classrooms.

But some educators and families are concerned that when the emergency order expires in December, families will be expected to send their students back to brick-and-mortar classrooms, regardless of the state of the pandemic in January.

A recent letter written by the Florida PTA asked Gov. Ron DeSantis to consider extending parts of the order, saying that “parental choice should not be restricted nor schools financially penalized for parents who wish to continue virtual or hybrid-virtual instruction.”

The Florida Education Association, a statewide teacher union, has also requested that school districts should not be financially impacted if their students choose virtual options in the spring semester.

“School districts need to know they’ll have the funds to operate without severe cuts. Parents who want their children to learn at home need to know that they’ll still have that option after Jan. 8 — in their own districts, with teachers they know and trust,” said FEA President Andrew Spar, in a written statement Wednesday.

Meanwhile, The FEA is in the middle of a lawsuit against the same emergency order, saying that parts of the order oversteps the authority of local school boards to make decisions on reopening brick-and-mortar campuses and allowing virtual programs during the pandemic.