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Civil rights groups press Florida to continue e-learning next semester

They say the option should remain in place for families with concerns about COVID-19 in schools.

A trio of Florida civil rights groups have called upon the state Department of Education to allow children to continue taking live online classes from home in the second semester of the school year.

In a letter to the State Board of Education, leaders of the League of United Latin American Citizens, the League of Women Voters and the NAACP said Thursday that parental choice should remain in place for families who have health concerns about COVID-19. They noted that children of color are less likely than others to use independent virtual instruction, and in a phone conversation one leader pointed to an Orlando Sentinel story highlighting how low-income minority students have been opting for the e-learning model more than others.

Gov. Ron DeSantis has suggested that having schools open for in-person learning aimed to help those families.

“If district e-learning options disappear, it is likely parents not willing to let their children take the health risks associated with face-to-face schooling would no longer have a district-related remote option accessible at no cost to all students,” the letter said. It was signed by Mari Corugedo of the League of United Latin American Citizens, Patti Brigham of the League of Women Voters and Adora Obi Nweze of the NAACP.

The risks associated with COVID-19 do not appear to be lessening, they contended.

“Leading up to election week, the Florida Department of Health reported 15,498 COVID-19 cases related to Florida schools since Sept. 6. Public health experts have explained the risks associated with crowded indoor spaces,” they wrote. “We can expect school infection rates would rise if all students were forced to pack into brick-and-mortar settings, thereby erasing the current social distancing features that provide safeguards for face-to-face students and school staff members.”

They made their statement to support Florida’s school superintendents association, which recently urged the state to maintain funding rules that have allowed them to offer continuity and stability for families that have kept their children in the remote live learning model. The superintendents suggested that districts would best serve children by targeting their academic needs regardless of where they sit.

Related: Anxiety high as families await Florida’s second semester school plan

Education commissioner Richard Corcoran said he plans to announce the department’s guidelines for second semester before Thanksgiving break. He did not provide any more details.

Some observers have speculated that Corcoran might unveil the rules when the State Board of Education meets Wednesday in Tallahassee.

The three organization leaders aimed to influence the outcome. They said in their statement that parents should have choices, especially during a pandemic.

“State leaders have repeatedly assured parents that they could choose the option that suits them,” they wrote. "Approval for continued full funding for remote and innovative learning options is necessary to continue to provide that choice.”