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Florida's education commissioner rejects Hillsborough County's plan to start first four weeks of school online only

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Posted at 7:03 PM, Aug 07, 2020
and last updated 2020-08-12 02:23:24-04

TAMPA, Fla. -- The state is looking to stop the Hillsborough County Public Schools from starting the first four weeks of classes to online only.

It comes just a day after the Hillsborough County school board voted to start the first four weeks of classes online only and not via brick-and-mortar education.

In a letter sent to Superintendent Addison Davis and school board chair Melissa Snively, Florida Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran says it gives him “grave concerns” when the district takes away the families’ abilities to choose the brick-and-mortar learning options.

PREVIOUS COVERAGE: Hillsborough school board votes to have first 4 weeks of classes via eLearning and HVS options only

Corcoran says making the classes online only goes against the proposal that Hillsborough County originally submitted to the state and the state had approved

Corcoran, in the letter, gave the Hillsborough County Public Schools an ultimatum: to go back to the district’s original reopening plan, submit an amended plan, withdraw the district’s plan and “proceed under the existing statutory framework.”

Below is the letter sent by Corcoran:

On Tuesday, Hillsborough County's school board members revealed that the district may lose up to $23 million in funding from the state if they continue with their plan to start the school year virtually.

According to Hillsborough County school board member Cindy Stuart, the loss of funding from the state would hurt the district.

"It would certainly would impact teachers, it would certainly impact our facilities and what we are doing with our facilities,” Stuart said.

On Monday, Governor Ron DeSantis echoed Corcoran's sentiments by saying it was important to give families the right to choose between eLearning and sending their kids back to school this fall.

"Here in Florida, we really believe in empowering parents with having a choice about the upcoming school year," Gov. DeSantis said during a roundtable discussion at Winthrop College Prep Academy in Riverview.

Gov. DeSantis has maintained his stance on giving families the ability to choose between eLearning and brick-and-mortar education for weeks, citing "overwhelming evidence" that schools can reopen safely.

"Our kids are at the least risk from this virus and much lower risk than they are from seasonal influenza. Our kids also play the smallest role in transmission of the virus," Gov. DeSantis said during a July 22 press conference.

The Hillsborough County Public Schools said in a statement on Monday that the district "explicitly followed the state's executive order," and says the state allows schools to not open brick-and-mortar education based on what health officials say.

Below is a full statement released by the district:

“Our district explicitly followed the state’s executive order. The order provides school districts the option of not opening brick and mortar “subject to advise or orders of the Florida Department of Health, (or) local departments of health”. Last Thursday, our School Board made an informed decision after hearing from the local public health authority and local infectious disease experts. The panel was asked if we should open our doors and not one medical professional could recommend opening today. The state’s order goes on to say the day-to-day decision to open or close a school always rests locally.”

Davis released the following statement in response to Corcoran’s letter:

“I have received the letter from the Florida Department of Education and we are in the process of reviewing and analyzing the letter with our legal team. Yesterday, the School Board made an informed decision after receiving data and hearing from the Florida Department of Health in Hillsborough County, along with hearing the advice of other local infectious disease and public health authorities. The Board acted after serious deliberations and with all due diligence. Our district understood the possibility that such a response from the state might come and it has been clear that the district could face negative implications. We will use this information to have discussions about where we go from here."

ABC Action News spoke with local parents who say, with a little more than two weeks until school starts, it's time state and local education leaders get on the same page.

"All we can do is just hope that, you know, we can figure out a solution that is safe and works for everyone," said Ashley Thompson.

As of Monday, Florida's Department of Health reports more than 536,000 coronavirus cases across the state and the death toll of 8,277.