School districts can submit plans to educate students remotely, but they must prove that students learning from home are receiving the same level of education that students in school buildings receive.
Florida Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran issued an emergency order Monday requiring all schools to open in the fall and laying out the requirements that districts must meet to offer any sort of nontraditional remote instruction in addition to their in-person option.
“All school boards and charter school governing boards must open brick and mortar schools in August at least five days per week for all students,” the announcement states.
Local health officials can override the commissioner’s directive if it is not safe to open schools because of COVID-19, but Monday’s announcement makes it clear that districts have to prepare to open their doors to all students in August.
And while health officials could deem schools unsafe, as long as there are not widespread shutdowns, it could be a tough call to single out schools.
“Logically, I don’t think they could say schools aren’t safe if they are allowing people to be out in public,” Department of Education spokeswoman Cheryl Etters said.
“If locally they are not able to open, we will work with districts on the continuation of their Instructional Continuity Plan or determining alternative options,” she said in a followup email.
What it means
Under the directive:
• School boards must prepare to reopen physical buildings in August for all students, full time.
• School districts cannot shift to a hybrid model, where students spend half their time in school and half at home. Every student must have the option of being in school five days per week.
• The only option for schools to not be physically open in August is if local Department of Health officials say schools cannot open.
• The DOE will not be waiving the minimum number of instructional hours for students, and schools must provide all services they normally do.
Remote learning options
The order significantly raises the bar for remote learning options.
In the spring, as the coronavirus pandemic intensified, the DOE emphasized “grace and compassion” as schools shifted to all online learning in a matter of weeks, and the state removed several requirements districts normally must follow.
In the fall, schools can offer a remote learning option in addition to in-person learning, but those plans must be approved by the state and must be far more robust than they were last spring.
Remote learning options must …
• Ensure students receive the same number of instructional hours, the same content and the same level of feedback and interaction that students in a physical setting would receive.
• Allow students to transition off of the remote plan and return to the physical setting.
• Share monitoring data to demonstrate that students learning remotely are progressing.
The commissioner’s order requires districts to provide the full suite of services to students with disabilities or English Language learners.