Florida right to keep remote learning option for schools | Editorial
Choices for families, safer environments on campus and new help for struggling kids.
Florida education commissioner Richard Corcoran announced Monday that online learning would continue to be an option in the second semester.
Florida education commissioner Richard Corcoran announced Monday that online learning would continue to be an option in the second semester. [ The Florida Channel ]
This article represents the opinion of the Tampa Bay Times Editorial Board.
Published Dec. 6, 2020

The state’s decision to allow remote classes to continue in the spring is good news for parents, children and school districts alike. With the pandemic still surging, families should have the option to choose whether in-classroom instruction or online learning works best for their own situation. Students struggling remotely will have access to new resources, and the extension gives school districts the certainty they need to plan and budget for the coming semester.

The Department of Education released a new emergency order for the second semester on Monday that keeps live remote classes available as an option. As the Tampa Bay Times’ Jeffrey S. Solochek reports, schools would be expected to continue face-to-face classes, as the state previously required. With about 35 percent of students across Florida (and the Tampa Bay area) using e-learning, the decision was both practical and responsible, especially given that any widespread public access to a coronavirus vaccine is still likely months away.

The directive from Florida education commissioner Richard Corcoran seems to achieve his goal of providing a system that offers flexibility while striving as a state for the best academic outcomes. Schools must submit plans for how they will address learning shortfalls that students may face at home, a clear acknowledgement that many students have struggled with technical barriers and a lack of structure that comes with online learning. Schools must alert parents if their child is not making “adequate progress” online, and districts would intervene if necessary — changing a students’ assignment, providing academic support or encouraging a return to the classroom — to get them back on track.

The order is a balanced approach that enables families to make their own decisions while recognizing the harm the pandemic has caused to the traditional scholastic experience. Gov. Ron DeSantis, who appeared with Corcoran to make the announcement, is right that “virtual learning is just not the same” as face-to-face instruction. DeSantis and Corcoran have been bullish about keeping the classrooms open, and the dire predictions of a crisis emanating from campus-borne infections has not demonstrably come to pass. Other states are also recognizing the value and limited risk of reopening brick-and-mortar schools, at least at the elementary levels. But the focus here needs to be on providing the safest possible environment on campus, and the richest possible experience for children learning online. With the pandemic raging, the hybrid is still a work in progress, and this is no time to limit choice or to prematurely spike the football.

The announcement also clears the way for the state’s individual school districts to begin planning for next semester. Some superintendents and parents want the state to go a step further in recognizing the impacts of this chaotic year by suspending the high-stake tests that shape school and district grades. The right way forward on that question is not immediately clear. But it looks like Corcoran took seriously the input of local school leaders in crafting these instructional options. That same sense of collective purpose should guide any fair effort to hold the schools accountable.

Editorials are the institutional voice of the Tampa Bay Times. The members of the Editorial Board are Times Chairman and CEO Paul Tash, Editor of Editorials Graham Brink, and editorial writers Elizabeth Djinis, John Hill and Jim Verhulst. Follow @TBTimes_Opinion on Twitter for more opinion news