Florida schools must reopen for students in August under an executive order issued by the state's education commissioner Monday, with few exceptions such as the local health department declaring it is not safe due to the novel coronavirus.
Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran's order said the schools must be open for students five days a week and specified requirements that needed to be met if a school was to offer a remote instruction option, the Tallahassee Democrat reported.
The announcement comes on the day President Donald Trump tweeted – in all caps – "SCHOOLS MUST OPEN IN THE FALL!!!"
It also comes a week after the American Academy of Pediatrics recommended schools reopen and policy considerations "should start with the goal of having students physically present in school."
Local health officials can override the state's mandate, but Department of Education spokeswoman Cheryl Etters told the Democrat it will be difficult to justify without near complete blanket restrictions.
"Logically, I don't think they could say schools aren't safe if they are allowing people to be out in public," she said. "If locally they are not able to open, we will work with districts on the continuation of their instructional continuity plan or determining alternative options."
Corcoran's order requires school boards prepare to reopen buildings for all students, full time; prohibits them from using a hybrid model, where students spend half their time in school and half at home; and mandates they meet the minimum number of instructional hours for students and schools provide all services they normally do.
If schools are to offer a remote option, they must receive state approval and be more vigorous, including making sure students receive the same number of instructional hours, content and an equal level of feedback and interaction that students attending school receive; offer students a way to transition from remote to the physical school; and share monitoring data to demonstrate that students learning remotely are making progress.
The Democrat quoted Manatee County School Board member Charlie Kennedy as expecting teachers unions to sue over the policy.
"The state's teachers union has got to sue over this," he said. "It is forcing compromised staff back to work."
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