'Follow the law:' Education commissioner blasts Hillsborough plan to delay on-campus classes

One day after Hillsborough County’s school board voted to delay the opening of school campuses by a month, the state’s top education official says he has “grave concerns” about the plan.

Commissioner of Education Richard Corcoran sent a letter of rebuke to Hillsborough County’s superintendent Friday, telling him that the move is a violation of the state’s order to reopen campuses this fall. The letter warned Hillsborough to “follow the law” or face a possible loss of state funding.

In response, Hillsborough County Public Schools Superintendent Addison Davis said in a statement that he "understood the possibility that such a response from the state might come and it has been clear that the district could face negative implications."

Davis said the district is consulting with its legal counsel on the matter.

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A month ago, Corcoran issued an emergency order to all public school districts – except those in hardest-hit South Florida – to make sure all campuses were open for parents who wanted in-person instruction for their kids. It also directed each county to outline a plan for reopening, then submit the plan for state approval.

Last month, Hillsborough County’s school board approved their plan. But when several members had reservations about the spiking COVID-19 cases, the board’s attorney assured them they had the right to delay implementation of the plan – which is what they voted to do yesterday.

The board heard hours of public comment and input from the county’s top doctors. None of the doctors endorsed a plan to reopen campuses right now – all six said the current rate of spread in the community was too great.

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Based on their advice, the board voted 5-2 to start the school year as planned on August 24, but have all classes online for the first four weeks.

That prompted a stern response from Corcoran, delivered late Friday.

“The Hillsborough County School Board needs to follow the law, it’s that simple,” he wrote. “We will not stand idly by while they trample over the majority of parents who want to do right by their children. What they did yesterday completely eliminated the flexible options for their families and students and ignored how harmful it can be for students who are experiencing violence, abuse, and food insecurity in their homes, many of whom are already struggling to close achievement gaps. These are urgent circumstances and we cannot, and will not, ignore it.”

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Despite Corcoran’s reference to the “majority” of parents, Hillsborough County was evenly split between online classes and in-person classes, according to Superintendent Addison Davis.

The letter from the state offered three options: Reopening as outlined in the approved plan, submitting a new plan for state approval that’s consistent with state guidelines, or withdrawing the plan and "proceeding under the existing statutory framework,” which could mean a loss of state funding. 

PDF: Read Corcoran's full letter

Read Davis' full response here:

View Hillsborough County's reopening plan here: