FL districts told to use state plans as CDC releases guidance for school reopenings during COVID

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

Florida Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran says that new CDC guidance on reopening schools safely is “informative” — but school districts and private schools should ultimately use Florida’s own guidelines.

With most of Florida schools in brick-and-mortar classrooms since August, it’s easy to forget that not all schools in the United States have launched in-person instruction in the way that Florida has during the COVID pandemic.

That means fully-opened schools for five days of the week in Florida. Families in Florida also are allowed to do instruction online at home.

But Friday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released guidance on how more schools in the U.S. can reopen for brick-and-mortar classrooms across the nation, offering suggestions such as mask wearing, social distancing, and prioritizing COVID vaccines for teachers and school staff.

Nevertheless, Corcoran tells school districts to keep following Florida’s reopening plans from summer.

In a press release from the Florida Department of Education responding to the “expected release” of CDC guidelines for reopening schools, Corcoran strongly advises school districts to “stay the course they began in Summer 2020” and to “continue to follow the Florida re-opening guidance,” regardless of what the new CDC guidance says.

Even if Florida schools have been open for months, some of the CDC recommendations could still improve the COVID situation in Florida schools.

According to CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky, who spoke during a Friday telebriefing on schools reopening, said that schools planning to reopen should focus on two strategies to mitigate COVID spread in schools, though other practices are strongly encouraged.

“Universal and correct use of masks that should be required for all students, teachers, and staff, and physical distancing of at least 6-feet between people” are the two prioritized strategies recommended for safe school reopening, Walensky said.

Regarding physical distancing, the CDC recommends “podding” students, meaning that a group of students stay together throughout the entire day, or implementing a blocked schedule that allows groups of students to rotate between attend in-person classes and virtual instruction. The success of these practices could vary greatly from school-to-school and grade-to-grade.

As for masks, that decision is made at a local level in Florida, and Gov. Ron DeSantis has consistently opposed the idea of a statewide mask mandate.

In a Phoenix analysis of state data, there have been more than 60,000 COVID cases related to Florida’s public and private K-12 schools since early September.

According to Education Week, Florida is one of four states that have mandated that schools be open 5-days a week for in-person instruction, and one of 20 states that have not yet prioritized teachers for COVID vaccination.

Based on the DOE press release, it seems unlikely that there will be major changes to the operation of Florida schools during the COVID pandemic based on the recommendations given by the CDC Friday.

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.