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Two states—Texas and Florida—are moving forward to open their schools for five-day, in-person instruction, even though the rate of coronavirus infections in both states is rising.
Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos has demanded that schools across the nation restart and become fully operational, although she has no power to force schools to reopen when local officials believe it is unwise and unsafe. She and Trump are trying to force schools to open as if there were no pandemic and no risks to students and staff. They think that opening schools will be good for the economy and help his re-election. It’s hard to see how it will help his standing in the polls if the pandemic continues to spread and claims more victims.
DeVos made a point of praising Florida Commissioner Richard Corcoran (former Speaker of the Florida House of Representatives who has no background or qualifications in education and has expressed his desire to totally voucherize every school in the state) for ordering every school to reopen fully in mid-August.
As reported in Education Week, Corcoran left a loophole:
Corcoran’s Monday order says that, when they reopen in August, “all school boards and charter school governing boards must open brick and mortar schools at least five days per week for all students.” But those decisions are “subject to advice and orders of the Florida Department of Health, local departments of health” and other state orders.
Calling on schools to open “at least five days per week for all students” seems to eliminate the possibility of hybrid remote learning plans that have been among the most popular models for districts around the country. While the Trump administration has not clarified what exactly it expects from schools, DeVos has criticized hybrid plans as inadequate.
The school boards in Palm Beach County and Miami-Dade have announced that they will seek exemptions and continue remote or hybrid programs rather than reopen fully.
Texas has been promoting reopening, but local boards and teachers in hard-hit areas of the state are resisting.
The Trump administration has been citing the American Academy of Pediatrics as its justification for forcing schools to open, but AAP President Sally Goza pushed back and said that schools should not reopen without the financial resources to do so safely.
She told NPR that the AAP does not support rigid state mandates:
“We will be sticking to what our guidelines say —that if it does not look safe in your community to open schools, that we need to really have that looked at. We also need to make sure that schools have the needed resources to reopen safely so that a lack of funding is not a reason to keep students home, which we’re hearing in a lot of communities—to do what we’re asking people to do to make schools safe is not really financially feasible in some of these communities.”