Few questions linger after education commissioner's order

The reaction to Florida Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran's new emergency order Tuesday was largely positively, but it left some stakeholders with a few concerns.

Corcoran and Gov. Ron DeSantis unveiled the order for the second semester of the school year during a news conference Monday. It largely mirrors the one issued during the summer for the first semester.

"It's going to be a complete victory across the board for all 67 counties," Corcoran proclaimed.

Hillsborough schools Superintendent Addison Davis applauded the commissioner for giving families the same choices they had during the first semester.

Parents will be able to choose for their kids between in-person and virtual learning.

"It says a lot about stability and that we will really value what parents actually want in identifying the besting learning opportunity for their child," Davis said.

Virtual learning will remain an option for second semester, DeSantis confirms

In his first public appearance in almost a month, Gov. Ron DeSantis confirmed Monday that Florida's schools will offer e-learning for the second half of the school year, but they must also remain open with an in-person option.

Some parents in Hillsborough County have already made their decisions: Roughly 9,500 additional families have indicated they plan to send their kids back to school in January. Davis said an additional 60 percent of the district's families still had yet to respond to a survey sent out last month.

One of Davis' biggest concerns is the order doesn't address grades for districts and schools, which he believes may need to be paused during COVID-19.

"Right now school grades and district grades, how important is it in the scheme of things?" Davis asked.

Stephanie Baxter-Jenkins, executive director of the Hillsborough Classroom Teachers Association, had a different concern. She was hopeful teachers and school nurses would be considered essential enough to be among the first to receive the COVID-19 vaccine.

"I would have liked to see in the emergency order, if [DeSantis] is focused on things like the vaccine and getting vaccines out, obviously we would want our nurses and doctors to have access to that type of thing," Baxter-Jenkins said. "Frankly, teachers are right up there with people who have a pretty constant potential exposure to this virus."

Davis, meanwhile, is urging the remainder of the families to respond to the survey, which is informal and does not lock in their choice for the second semester.