Governor DeSantis announces plan to reopen schools at full capacity in the fall

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis announced a plan on Thursday to reopen schools in the fall at full capacity.

DeSantis made the announcement in Melbourne with the Board of Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran and superintendents from around the state. He stated that by August -- the traditional start of the academic year in Florida -- he would like schools to reopen at full capacity for students to learn in a safe environment.

“Getting back on our feet in the school year is going to be really important for the well-being of our kids, but I think it’s going to be important for our parents, who have had to juggle a lot over the last few months,” Gov. DeSantis said.

MORE NEWS: Florida cases jump by nearly 1,700, death toll rises by 47

Florida’s public schools transitioned to online learning during the spring break period earlier this year in order to slow the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic. Some counties experienced technical glitches as they figured out how to roll out virtual classes, while the state waived school testing requirements and other traditional metrics.

The governor praised the school districts’ efforts but Corcoran warned of significant long-term harm for students. He stated that “the message should be loud and clear with a strong recommendation to the great superintendents that we work with: We want schools fully open in the fall because there is no better way to educate our students."

The announcement came on a day of record coronavirus cases in the state. Nearly 1,700 new cases were reported Thursday, the largest single-day increase and the ninth day in a row with around 1,000 or more cases. 

According to the Florida Department of Education's plan, the reopening of schools would occur in three steps:

  • Step 1: In June, open up K-12 campuses for youth activities and summer camps.
  • Step 2: Then in July, campuses expand capacities further and allow for summer recovery instruction.
  • Step 3: By August, campuses will open up at full capacity for the traditional start of the academic year.

College campuses will also reopen in three steps and at full capacity by the fall:

  • Step 1: State colleges, technical colleges, and universities are generally virtual during Summer A and C semesters.  However, first responders and some CTE programs can resume in person.
  • Step 2: During the Summer B semester, state colleges and technical colleges can open for in-person learning. State universities can continue virtually if they have already decided for Summer B.
  • Step 3: By the Fall Semester, state colleges, technical colleges, and universities will open at full capacity for the traditional start of the academic year.

Students are recommended to adhere to the following guidelines through each phase of reopening:

  • Practice social distancing when feasible.
  • Frequently wash hands or use hand sanitizer. 
  • Avoid touching eyes, nose, and mouth.
  • Cover your cough or sneeze with your elbow or a tissue.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched items and surfaces as much as possible.
  • Monitor your symptoms carefully.
  • If you feel sick, stay home.
  • If you believe you are infected with COVID-19, contact your health care provider immediately.

School employees are recommended to adhere to a similar set of guidelines through each phase of reopening and will include:

  • Practice social distancing when feasible.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched items and surfaces as much as possible.
  • Develop and implement policies and procedures to train employees on personal hygiene expectations, including increased frequency of handwashing, the use of hand sanitizers, and clear instruction to avoid touching hands to face.
  • Encourage employees and students to stay home if they feel sick.
  • Monitor employees and students for COVID-19 symptoms.
  • Do not allow symptomatic people to physically return until they meet CDC criteria to do so or are cleared by a medical provider.
  • Consult with the county health department regarding procedures for workforce tracing following a positive COVID-19 test by an employee, student, or those who have come into contact with an individual who has tested positive for COVID-19.

The plan also advises that medically vulnerable students develop a plan for returning to school with their family doctor. In addition, medically vulnerable staff should also work with their doctors to create a return to work plan.

Regarding masks, the Florida Department of Education is not mandating cloth face coverings but advises that schools should explore strategies to utilize them to a feasible extent. Schools at the minimum should be supportive of students, teachers, and staff who voluntarily wear cloth face coverings. 

A set of more recommendations to reduce risk through several aspects of the school day and activities is detailed in the full plan.

MORE NEWS: COVID-19 cases top 2 million in US, according to Johns Hopkins

In addition, Florida will help students return to on-campus learning by divvying up funds from the CARES Act. This will include:

  • $64 million to close achievement gaps that have likely been exacerbated during the pandemic. 
  • $20 million to engage school districts in identifying and adopting the best reading curriculum to drive teaching and learning from grades K-3. 
  • $15 million to train and develop 2,000 highly effective reading coaches, develop strategies for in-classroom reading coaches. 
  • $223 million for early learning programs. This includes $55M to childcare providers with costs to maintain a safe learning environment. 
  • $16.9 million to childcare providers who agree to re-open as part of Florida schools re-opening plan. 
  • $20.9 million in funding for successful transition to kindergarten programs, to implement summer programs for 45,000 rising kindergarten children with literacy struggles.
  • $45 million set aside as safety-net funds to ensure children don’t continue to have disruptions in  their education. The funds include up to $30M to protect tax credit scholarships.
  • $8 million to allow every public school student graduating in the 2020-2021 to take the ACT or SAT free of charge. 
  • $5 million to expand civic literacy in our schools.
  • $35 million to increase capacity around short-term, in-demand technical certificate programs, market-driven and clock-hour career certificate programs, and preparation courses, at the state’s 28 state colleges, and 48 technical colleges.
  • $10.9 million for career and technical education equipment grants to support K-12 post-secondary career courses. this plan also includes help and recommendations for education community.
  • $2 million for increased telehealth services for students experiences difficulties during this time.

Below is the complete plan to reopen Florida schools and how the CARES Act will contribute to closing the achievement gap and creating a safe place for learning. It outlines more recommendations for reducing the risk of COVID-19 in schools, more details on how the CARES funds will be allocated, and what schools should do if positive cases of coronavirus start occuring.

MOBILE USERS: Click here to view the full plan from the Florida Department of Education

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