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State News

Schools To Remain Closed Through April 15th, State Says To Use Online Education Tools

Woman in white t-shirt with grey backpack
Omar Roque
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Unsplash

School officials across the state are preparing for a worst-case scenario. Schools remaining closed through April 15. Schools were slated to return March 30, but the Florida Department of Education says to expect a longer Spring Break. 

The state university system governing board has told students to plan on completing their classes online for the remainder of the semester. Bars have been ordered to shut down. Ahead of the move to keep schools closed through mid-April Leon Superintendent Rocky Hanna says wasn’t optimistic schools would resume by the initial March 30th date.

“We all see where his is heading. We’re not opening more stores. We’re not opening more restaurants. We’re closing more stores. We’re closing more restaurants. We’re limiting exposure. We’re social distancing. So, I’m not very optimistic our schools will return March 30. But we have a plan either way.”

The Florida Department of Education says it will recommend schools remain on extended break until April 15. It says it will re-evaluate that recommendation every two weeks and says school districts should be prepared to extend their educational calendars through June 30, 2020.

Keeping students out of school beyond the initial date of March 30th brings a host of issues: How to pay teachers who are contracted for 196 days of instruction? What happens if the school year pushes out into the summer? How to bridge a technology divide between students who can work online and those that can’t? And how to maintain some form of academic integrity during the whole thing? There are also questions and concerns about school and district grades, student promotion and retention. Hanna says the district is working on contingency plans, but needs guidance from the state.

“We don’t want every district doing its on thing," he says. "We’re making decisions based on science, not hysteria, and if the experts say we don’t need to be in school, we don’t need to be in school."  

Some of that guidance came Tuesday afternoon. The Florida Department of Education has eliminated testing for the year. Parents can choose whether to re-enroll their kids in the current grade next school year, and there will be no school or district grades issues.  Gov. Ron DeSantis says the state is granting flexibility to districts to help with online schooling.

“Districts are instructed to redirect unspent 2020 funds…to help low-income students purchase digital devices and establish internet services so they can engage in remote instruction," he announced. 

Even though schools may not restart until April 15, Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran says he wants teachers to still teach.

“Most of the K-5 kids, they’re [schools] going to be innovative," he said. "At the 6-12 [grades], almost all of them [schools] have devices or have money they can spend for devices for low-income kids and internet access, so all the 6-12 will be virtual.” 

Both the state and the school district say more details will be unveiled in the coming days.