A school district spokeswoman said the letter was being reviewed; the school board scheduled an emergency meeting for Sept. 29 to figure out next steps.
Miami-Dade is one of a few districts that started the 2020-21 school year with all-remote learning after winning permission from the administration of Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) because of exceptionally high coronavirus rates.
Corcoran’s letter came as a surprise to Miami-Dade officials. The Miami Herald quoted Hantman as saying, “It’s just very strange to me and I think it took everyone by surprise. I’m very much in favor of opening schools but when it’s safe.”
Daisy Gonzalez-Diego, chief communications officer for the district, said in a statement emailed to The Washington Post:
“Miami-Dade County Public Schools (M-DCPS) is carefully reviewing the letter received from the Commissioner of Education on Friday. The District was prepared to launch Stage II of our reopening plan, under the adjusted timeline proffered and unanimously approved by the School Board last week. However, M-DCPS will not be announcing return dates until all implications and concerns outlined in the recently received communication have been assessed and direction from the Board has been received. A special School Board meeting is being scheduled for early next week.”
DeSantis, a strong ally of President Trump, and Corcoran had set a deadline of Aug. 31 for all schools in the state to open five days a week for students who wanted to return and threatened to withhold millions of dollars in federal funding to districts that did not. Broward and Palm Beach counties in South Florida also were given permission to open remotely because of high coronavirus rates.
Corcoran also sent a similar letter to Broward County school leaders, who decided last week on a soft school reopening on Oct. 14, with all students back Oct. 20. Palm Beach County opened schools last week amid fierce debate in the community about whether the school district was ready to welcome back teachers and students. About one-third of students returned to class, with the rest continuing remote learning at home.
The education commissioner told Miami-Dade to reopen by Oct. 5 or explain why individual districts were not ready to do so. Corcoran said keeping schools closed was “extremely difficult” on students with disabilities and was “harmful to students who are experiencing violence, abuse and food insecurity in their homes.”
DeSantis has been aggressively reopening the state’s economy even with high coronavirus rates in some parts of Florida. Late last week, he moved the entire state into Phase 3 of his reopening plan, which means restaurants and other businesses can open with 100 percent capacity.
Miami Mayor Francis Suarez had questioned whether Florida was really ready for Phase 3. According to Johns Hopkins University, which is tracking coronavirus cases nationwide, Florida has had more than 698,000 diagnosed cases of covid-19 and has a coronavirus positivity rate of 13.3 percent. The World Health Organization has recommended governments reopen their economies when the positivity rate is 5 percent or below for at least two weeks.
Also late last week, DeSantis came to the defense of college students who were not following social-distancing rules on campus that were set to try to prevent coronavirus outbreaks. The governor said he wanted some kind of “bill of rights” that could shield students from discipline for violating what he called “draconian” rules. Hundreds of college students on Florida campuses have tested positive for covid-19.
The Miami-Dade County Board of Education began meeting on Sept. 21 to decide when to reopen school buildings, taking up a recommendation by Carvalho to begin a staggered opening in early October.
After hours of public testimony from more than 750 people and much discussion, board members decided to go slow with reopening as covid-19 rates in Miami were still high, though lower than earlier in the summer, when it was a national hot spot. During the meeting, Hantman said, “We need to be very, very sure, or very, very careful, that we have crossed all the t’s and dotted all of the i’s. We need to be very sure this is not a rushed thing.”
Miami-Dade County schools surveyed parents recently on their preference for continued learning, and 51 percent chose returning to school. The rest opted to continue remote learning.
The school system’s online start to the academic year had problems from the start. On the first day of school in August, the online platform crashed; it had been purchased for $15.3 million by Carvalho’s administration from the for-profit company K12 Inc. Problems included software glitches, network outages and cyberattacks for which a 16-year-old was arrested.
Continued problems led the school board — after a meeting lasting about 13 hours, with 400 speakers — to end the contract about two weeks after school started.
Here’s the letter from Corcoran to the Miami-Dade County Board of Education: