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Teachers union calls for experts to guide Florida’s school reopening

The FEA suggests educators, parents and students should have significant involvement.
An empty classroom at Bloomingdale High School in Hillsborough County. [Skip O'Rourke | Times]
An empty classroom at Bloomingdale High School in Hillsborough County. [Skip O'Rourke | Times] [ SKIP O'ROURKE | Skip O'Rourke ]
Published Apr. 28, 2020

As Gov. Ron DeSantis prepares to unveil his plans to reopen Florida on Wednesday, the state’s teachers union called on the Department of Education to convene more panels of experts to guide any return to schools.

In a letter to education commissioner Richard Corcoran, Florida Education Association president Fed Ingram urged the creation of two statewide panels — one for K-12 schools and another for colleges and universities — to prepare recommendations for a safe resumption of in-person classes.

Florida Education Association president Fed Ingram [Jeffrey S. Solochek | Times]
Florida Education Association president Fed Ingram [Jeffrey S. Solochek | Times]

He suggested that each committee include large numbers of educators, in addition to school leaders, students and parents. He further proposed that diversity of membership be widened from the governor’s ‘reopen’ efforts, which were heavily white, male and Republican.

The focus, Ingram wrote, should be placed on students and staff health and safety, but other critical issues such as meeting the specific education needs of all students — in particular those from under-served communities and groups — also should be addressed.

“Time is of the essence,” wrote Ingram, whose organization has received credit for pressuring DeSantis to keep schools closed through the end of the academic year. “Many decisions for the 2020-2021 academic year already are being discussed. Direction must be given soon, and these committees will need time to do the work.”

DeSantis said Tuesday that he expected to present ideas within a day for getting Florida back in business. Several committees met over the past week to prepare recommendations, which he has received but not released.

The committee looking at education said on April 24 that its proposals would center on a few key needs. Those included building out the state’s safety net for future crises, such as expanding the capacity of Florida’s virtual schooling platform; improving the ratio of computers to students; boosting teacher training for distance learning and blended instruction; and eliminating internet deserts in the state.

Among the safety recommendations were the possibility of providing supplies of personal protection equipment for schools, screening campus visitors, creating rules for regular cleaning and disinfecting, and establishing spacing guidelines for classrooms and common spaces.

Issues such as plans for closing buildings if positive cases of coronavirus are discovered also were discussed.

At the meeting, Corcoran stressed that perhaps the biggest topic to tackle after health and safety will be the achievement gap among demographic groups, which could be worsened over the time spent away from classrooms. A goal will be to figure out “how do we get out in front of it,” Corcoran said.