Florida Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran released a statement Friday saying the state's schools should "stay the course they began in summer 2020" after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released new guidelines for resuming in-person classes.
"Since Summer 2020, Florida school districts, superintendents, public charter schools, private schools, educators, students and families have worked hard and have done an incredible job ensuring Florida students can continue to receive a world class education in-person, every day," Corcoran's statement read.
"The science has been clear since August, and subsequent studies and data since then show that schools are safe to reopen."
The CDC on Friday unveiled sweeping new guidance on how schools can safely reopen for in-person learning despite the spread of the coronavirus and highly contagious new variants.
The guidance advises schools to phase in their reopening plans in accordance with the severity of the outbreak in their areas. It recommends schools adopt "essential elements" in resuming in-person learning, including wearing masks, physical distancing and monitoring the level of spread in the surrounding community.
All schools, the CDC says, can safely reopen for full in-person learning if they follow appropriate protocols and are located in communities that report fewer than 50 new cases per 100,000 residents over the past seven days and have a positivity rate lower than 8%. It is possible for schools in communities with higher levels of spread to reopen for in-person learning on some days or with limited attendance and stricter infection prevention measures, the CDC said.
Corcoran said that "Florida’s schools have been operating safely for in-person instruction since last August, many also operated summer education programs, and 98.5% of early learning programs are serving families in-person."
He said districts and public charter schools should proceed with their Spring 2021 plans that were built upon their Fall 2020 reopening plans, and continue to follow the Florida re-opening guidance.
“For us, not much will change,” said Alberto Carvalho, superintendent of Miami-Dade School County Public Schools.
“We’ve been diligent about all our protocols, wearing masks, making sure there’s distancing,” said Robert Runcie, superintendent of Broward County Public Schools. “We’ve done extensive cleaning.”
Representatives for local teachers’ unions say the guidelines are good but getting teachers vaccinated would be even better.
“We also want to prioritize teachers getting their vaccines and making sure all the resources that they need to keep socially distant, to have smaller classes with more space and the PPE must be in place in order for these to be effective,” said Karla Hernandez-Mats, president of the United Teachers of Miami-Dade.
“That’s what has most of us upset,” said Miami-Dade high school teacher Jennifer Kaelin. “Ask any teacher, where’s our vaccines? And we’ll be more than happy to open up and do what you want us to.”