WASHINGTON, D.C., USA — As Florida prepares to reopen schools and as one local district fights to start the school year online-only, the state's education commissioner appeared at a discussion with President Donald Trump on reopening schools.
Appearing alongside teachers, parents and education leaders from around the country, Richard Corcoran touted Florida's plans and its emergency order, requiring districts to offer in-person learning five days a week.
"The best education is when you have a great teacher...children and their peers together getting a great education," Corcoran said.
Corcoran said 13 districts in Florida had reopened this week, and six of them have nearly 100 percent teacher participation. By the end of August, when all the districts reopen, Corcoran said he expected 70-80 percent of students will be back in classrooms.
Noting that Florida has the largest virtual school system in the country, Corcoran said he respects the decisions of parents who want to keep their children learning at home for now and wants families to continue to have a choice.
But, Corcoran also called it a "second-tier education."
"Virtual is just not as good as being there," Trump said in response. "It's just not the same thing."
Florida is being sued by several teachers' unions, including the state's largest, over the order, saying it's not yet safe for students and teachers to return to physical classrooms. And, Hillsborough County has been battling the state since last week after voting to go online-only for the first four weeks of the year.
On Wednesday, the district said it could lose $23 million in funding if it continues with the remote learning plan for the first four weeks.
Last week, Corcoran expressed "grave concerns" over Hillsborough's plan, which the district voted on last week. In a letter sent the next day, the Florida Department of Education said the school board "needs to follow the law" and gave the district an ultimatum.
Hillsborough Schools responded by pointing to a section of the state's emergency order that appears to give school officials some leeway on whether to reopen their buildings.
District spokeswoman Tanya Arja said the board made the "informed decision" to start the school year online-only after hearing from public health experts.
"...Not one medical professional could recommend opening today," she said, adding, ultimately, the day-to-day decision to open or close a school "always rests locally."
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