TAMPA, Fla. — The new mandate from the Florida Department of Education orders all public and charter schools to reopen brick-and-mortar buildings at least five days per week this fall.
With coronavirus cases surging in Florida, the new order might seem contradictory. However, the American Academy of Pediatrics, along with many health care professionals, see a great benefit to having school buildings open despite the risk of COVID-19.
Florida's mandate ensures all students have the option to do traditional learning if they choose. Many districts plan to offer virtual learning options for students who don't wish to return to regular classes in August, and most districts in Tampa Bay won't be affected by the order because they were already planning on having schools open five days a week.
Along with being an infectious disease expert with the USF College of Public Health, Dr. Jill Roberts is also a mother to a young child.
"From a parent standpoint, it’s a lose-lose situation. I can tell you my daughter wants to go back. She misses her teachers. She misses her friends. She was doing better in learning. From the standpoint of an infectious disease expert, it’s terrifying. It’s going to be an easy route of spread with that many kids together at one time," Roberts said.
She cited three areas that have to be considered:
- Kids who didn’t do well with e-learning
- Development is slipping and we're seeing more behavioral problems and regression
- Home is not safe for some kids and they count on school for two meals a day
Roberts recommends every family weigh their personal situation and risk factors.
"I saw my daughter’s learning suffer greatly. She definitely wants to go back to school. We’re still debating," she said.
10 Tampa Bay reached out to all the school districts in the area to see how the state mandate will impact their plans this coming Fall.
A spokesperson said nothing changes. Parents still need to fill out the Declaration of Intent by July 19, selecting traditional learning, e-learning or virtual schooling.
E-learning is online learning attached to your assigned school and teacher whereas virtual school is a separate program where kids work at their own pace to meet required goals.
In an e-mail, a spokesperson with the district said:
The emergency order doesn't impact our plan for re-opening schools. We are exploring several instructional models.
The superintendent will present his plan for safely reopening the 2020 - 2021 school year at a school board workshop on July 14th.
The public information officer for Pasco County Schools answered our questions in this format:
- What does the state order mean for your county?
It doesn’t change anything in Pasco. We plan to open our schools and we will be open 5 days a week. The state also provided some flexibility, which will make our online options viable.
- Are you still planning on offering alternative learning for students?
Of course. We announced our 3 options on June 18 and that hasn’t changed.
3. When do you have to submit that plan to the state? When will your leaders submit their plan?
I don’t have a date of when we will submit our plan.
A spokesperson with Polk County Public Schools sent this:
Polk County Public Schools staff reviewed the document and have determined that the school options we’ve been developing for the 2020-21 school year are still viable under the order. Those options include being able to attend school in-person or virtually.
“Our reopening task force has been meeting for the last several weeks, carefully considering all the many details involved in resuming school amid the pandemic, including whether or not to require masks and how we provide families with flexibility during this especially challenging time. We will be presenting an overview of our plan to the School Board at their July 14 work session,” said Superintendent Jacqueline Byrd. “An important takeaway from the executive order is that school boards with an approved reopening plan will receive their full FTE credit even for students taking part in approved innovative learning formats. This was reassuring news for PCPS during these uncertain financial times.”
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