TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Florida’s first few public schools are set to restart in-person learning next week, a trial by fire of their reopening plans required by the state.
But how detailed are those strategies… and how heavily were they scrutinized by state officials? We took a look.
Florida's Department of Education required approval of the plans through the Ed Commissioner Richard Corcoran's controversial reopen order, last month. Most districts have done so, risking the loss of funding for non-compliance.
Our review of the plans found they're inconsistent. They range from very detailed to pretty reserved, depending on the district.
Pinellas, for example, offered up a 37-page reopen plan full of scenarios and contingencies, while Orange County's was less than half the size and detail. Dixie County was one of the smallest, just six pages.
Most plans aren’t much more than a checklist the Department sent out to districts. The templates ask schools to agree to seven assurances — like providing in-person lessons. What they don’t require— details on virus protection.
The approval process looks pretty straight forward as well. According to a DOE email to Calhoun County... "The Department’s review, for purposes of considering the approval of a reopening plan, is focused on verifying each of the seven assurances required by DOE Order No. 2020-EO-06."
Senate Ed Committee Chair Manny Diaz stands by the department’s system. He, like the commissioner and governor, says it provides districts needed freedom in a diverse state.
“Look, you may just check off the boxes and be very simple for them to return," said Diaz, R-Hialeah Gardens. "For other districts— it’s going to require a more elaborate plan or scheme, depending on the size of the district, depending on the infection rates and what the obstacles are.”
But how will these varied plans hold up once reopening is underway? For that answer, we’ll have to wait and see what happens.
When it comes to state-required school reopening plans — here’s what our investigation found.
- Details vary by district.
- Most are simply a checklist agreeing to seven state requirements, like in-person learning.
- None of the requirements deal with virus protection.
- And state plan approval is contingent on verifying districts will comply.