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Florida schools will offer online classes next semester, Corcoran says

The plan will become official with an order before Thanksgiving, the education commissioner said.

TALLAHASSEE — Florida’s top education official said Wednesday that students will be allowed to attend classes online through the end of the school year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, though funding for school districts remains under review.

The state’s K-12 pandemic plan for the second semester of classes will be laid out in a new emergency order, probably before Thanksgiving, education commissioner Richard Corcoran said at a State Board of Education meeting.

“I think we are on a pretty good schedule to get that done,” Corcoran said.

The Department of Education has been working with local school leaders, and Corcoran said the new order has been a “collaborative effort” that will be a “significant improvement based on our first 90, 100 days in school.” The current emergency order expires in December.

In recent weeks, parents and local school officials have called for consistency in the state’s pandemic education policies, including funding provisions that allow districts to accommodate tens of thousands of students who want to learn from home during the pandemic.

The state has not outlined the exact funding model that will be offered for the second semester of classes. As of now, districts receive the same amount of funding even if they see a drop in student enrollment due to COVID-19.

When asked by reporters about the money, Corcoran wouldn’t say outright that full state funding would be guaranteed for students who take classes online. He said the department was still working through the funding models.

“We are going through that right now and working with the districts,” he said.

The Florida Education Association, the state’s largest teachers union, in a statement Wednesday urged the state to extend funding provisions to allow districts to offer remote classes.

“School districts need to know they’ll have the funds to operate without severe cuts,” FEA President Andrew Spar said. “Parents who want their children to learn at home need to know that they’ll still have that option after Jan. 8 — in their own district, with teachers they know and trust.”

The union is asking the state to continue the policies in the order. The union challenged the order in court earlier this year after arguing that the state mandate to reopen schools amid the coronavirus pandemic was unconstitutional.

Gov. Ron DeSantis and Corcoran have frequently talked about the importance of in-person learning, and many parents have raised concerns that it could be a sign the state may want to get rid of the remote learning option.

But Corcoran said the governor “will take nothing less than full parental choice” when it comes to school in the upcoming semester, meaning that he wants parents to make the choice of whether their kids go back to the classroom or are educated at home. He also distanced himself from a proposal that looks at rewarding districts based on the number of students who enroll in face-to-face classes.

The new order is expected to include stricter language on what to do when students fall behind in school, whether they are taking classes online or in-person.

It will offer “full parental choice” on the method of learning, Corcoran said. But an intervention may be needed to make sure kids are not “short-changed,” he added.

“We need to make sure that either massive interventions are done for that child or that they are moved to a different modality that is safe within the family to ensure they are getting the year’s worth of learning this year,” Corcoran said.

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