Talks begin in earnest on how to get students back into brick-and-mortar classrooms

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Empty desks at school. Photo credit: Pixabay.

As talks of reopening Florida public schools begin in earnest, state and local officials will need to communicate with each other in order to safely bring students back into classrooms amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

The effort will involve “flexibility, compassion, grace, and patience” to safely open schools, said Rocky Hanna, Superintendent of Schools for Leon County.  Brick-and-mortar public schools were closed this spring, and students had to do remote learning at home — which has been challenging.

Hanna is part of a diverse group trying to bring kids back into classrooms, including school board members, teachers, city administrators, union officials, state lawmakers and civil rights advocates.

The Florida Education Association and the United Faculty of Florida gathered the committee of education experts and stakeholders to discuss how to safely reopen K-12 public schools when it is safe to do so.

The FEA had called on Florida Department of Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran last month to establish two committees on reopening schools but those committees had not been formed.

Now, the FEA is moving ahead to get talks started, hosted a virtual meeting Wednesday to begin the conversations.

At the virtual meeting, Supt. Hanna stressed that much of the decision-making at a local level relies on how Gov. Ron DeSantis and the State Board of Education will respond to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The sooner we get word from the Governor and the Department, the faster we can start making decisions,” he said.

He added that they are working on contingency plans for “whatever decisions are made at the state level.”

Hanna also said that “locally we can work together to ensure we’re abiding by those regulations and doing the best job we can to educate our students. That’s the great unknown.”

But he added that, “The people making these decisions also need to hear from us and hear the realities of what we’re dealing with.”

Hanna said, “I fear that those folks who have no idea what our world looks like are going to be making these decisions, and we’re going to be forced to try to implement something that is not practical.”