Florida Education Commissioner extends distance learning into spring

There are still questions about whether or not districts will get funding for students who chose remote learning.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla — Florida’s Education Commissioner announced Wednesday students can continue to learn remotely next semester, decision districts and the Florida Education Association pushed.

“There’s the flexibility and stability for the districts, our communities are safe, the entire education community from student to parent to teacher, and we get the best possible learning choice to parents,” Commissioner Richard Corcoran said. 

“I’m glad he’s looking at doing a new order to continue the flexibility that our districts need to serve all of our students,” Andrew Spar, president of the Florida Education Association teachers’ union (FEA), said.

“The question, is the devil is in the details and since we haven’t seen it [the order] yet, we don’t know exactly what is going to be contained in that order,” he said.

There are still questions about whether or not districts will get full funding for students who chose remote. Under the first emergency order issued over the summer, districts get funding for students who chose remote learning. The FEA sued the state in July regarding that order. The order also mandated districts reopen brick and mortar five days a week, and gave funding for distance learning students to districts that complied.

“They were granting the flexibility only if districts reopened brick and mortar five days a week without regard to conditions in the district and the readiness of the district. And so, it was this forced rushed opening that was the problem, not the flexibility that districts got,” Spar said. 

“We supported that from the beginning and continue to do so because districts need flexibility to meet the needs of every student and every parent,” he said.

FEA won the case in circuit court, but it went on to the Appeals Court, where the stay was reinstated, keeping districts under the Department of Education’s order.

Corcoran said they’re discussing future funding for the new order right now. He said local district financial officers sent in their ideas, and they’re going through those, and hope to have details about the new order out before Thanksgiving. 

“With COVID cases on the rise here in Florida, not just in our communities but in our schools, I think more and more parents want that assurance that they can have their students stay at home if they’re concerned about their health and safety,” Spar said.

“I have two girls in our public schools. I want to know when I’m sending them to school that every step and every measure is being taken to protect my kids just like every other parent,” Spar said.

Corcoran also said he and the DOE staff have had several calls and workshops with the districts regarding the new emergency order. Some districts First Coast News spoke with, however, said they haven’t heard officially about the new order.

“They [DOE] talk a lot about parent choice. They need to honor that parent choice and allow parents the option of keeping their kids at home without financially penalizing districts and that’s going to be the real issue and we hope the order will address that,” Spar said.

“We need to protect the learning environment for our kids, whether it’s in person or online, and we should make sure there are stability and funding extended for those kids,” Spar said.

According to a spokesperson for Clay County District Schools, the district asked families earlier this month for a decision on second-semester learning environments for their students, online options included.

In a statement, the spokesperson said, “With the extension of distance learning options, the district will be able to continue offering all current options that meet the needs of students and families.”

Duval County Public Schools said in a statement, “We remain committed to providing students with the online option through Duval HomeRoom contingent upon any further directives … from the state.”

FCN is waiting to hear back from other districts.

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