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Florida Education Commissioner Denies Hillsborough Schools' Online-Only Plan

four photos of students and teachers
Florida Department of Education / Hillsborough County Schools
Cover page of the Hillsborough County Schools reopening plan. The School Board's decision to hold classes remotely for the first four weeks of the new school year was turned down by Florida Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran Friday.

On Thursday, the Hillsborough County School Board voted to delay the opening of brick-and-mortar schools by four weeks, and operate entirely remotely.

Barely a day later, the Florida Department of Education said that plan won’t work.

The Tampa Bay Times reports that Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran sent a letter Friday afternoon to district officials saying the vote violated the plan the Board had already approved.

That plan offered parents and caregivers three options for when the school year starts August 24: in-person classes at a brick-and-mortar school, remote eLearning, or Hillsborough County’s Virtual K-12 education.

Corcoran said, without that first option, the county’s plan does not meet the requirements his department laid out July 6 that all Florida public schools have to offer a face-to-face option. That mandate is currently being challenged in court by the Florida Education Association.

In an e-mail to the Times, Corcoran said, “The Hillsborough County School Board needs to follow the law, it’s that simple. The whole reason the department created the emergency order was to grant districts maximum (flexibility) to do what is right for parents and school children. We will not stand idly by while they trample over the majority of parents who want to do right by their children.”

Corcoran said the district can follow the plan both the board and state already approved, submit an updated plan for each school that wants to remain closed, or drop its plan and continue under the current law – operate without waivers to provide funding for students attending remote class.

Medical experts from the University of South Florida Morsani College of Medicine, Moffitt Cancer Center, and Tampa General Hospital testified at Thursday’s board meeting, saying the positive test rate for COVID-19 should be five percent or lower before schools reopen. In Hillsborough County, the rate is currently 11 percent. 

The Times reports that Hillsborough Superintendent Addison Davis hadn’t read the full letter yet, but said the district will work with the Department of Education to come up with a plan.

“I’ve been clear from Day 1 that anything outside the emergency order could have negative financial impacts,” he told the Times. “We’ll use this information to have discussions about where we go from now.”

Mark Schreiner is the assistant news director and intern coordinator for WUSF News.
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