TAMPA, Fla. - The Florida education commissioner, Richard Corcoran came down hard on Hillsborough County schools Friday after the district voted last week to start the year off with four weeks of online classes.
Corcoran said in a letter to the school system that the district needs to “follow the law” and reopen schools this month, holding classes five days a week, as mandated by an executive order issued by Corcoran in July. The letter said the county’s decision could put funding on the line.
But Monday, Corcoran indicated that Hillsborough County can, in fact, begin the year with a four-week virtual period.
"So, we've given them that flexibility and they can absolutely make whatever decision they want," Corcoran said during a round-table discussion in Riverview. "We have 66 districts all very content with their plans that they've submitted. We have one district who submitted their plan, liked their plan, and then suddenly went back -- and they have that right. They have that.”
Corcoran added, however, he believes the school system’s decision is wrong.
“Is it right by parents? Is it right by students? Is it right by teachers? No, it's not," he said.
In July, the district submitted a plan to reopen schools August 24, which was a two-week delay to the original start date. Two weeks later after the board voted on the delay, it decided the delay would stay in place, but the first four weeks of school would be online-only.
Superintendent Addison Davis now has until Friday to submit a revised plan to the state, including data for every school and an explanation for why each one will remain closed.
But Corcoran said state education funding is based on the original plan submitted by the district.
"Some want to go back to in-person school, most teachers want to come back. Most students want to come back. All that flexibility, fine. Give them all that flexibility and we will fully fund you."
However, Corcoran said the state’s original emergency order to allow schools to move classes online was meant to make sure schools remained fully funded.
"If you go to strictly a virtual model, under existing law [and] without the emergency order, then the funding is less. And so we did the emergency order so that those locals would not have to worry about getting funded less," he explained.
FOX 13 reached out to Corcoran's office for clarification, but we have not heard back.
The school district responded Monday evening saying the school board made an informed decision after hearing from health and infectious disease experts and not one medical professional would recommend opening.
Hillsborough County points out the state’s order says the day-to-day decision to open or close a school always rests with local governments.