COVID-19 Task Force E-lert: Reopening Florida's Schools

By: Kim McDougal, Senior Government Affairs Consultant

Last week, Governor Ron DeSantis and Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran released Reopening Florida’s Schools and the CARES Act, a measured approach to a healthy and safe re-opening of Florida’s schools in the fall. In addition, the Department of Education released funding details for the CARES Act.   

Florida's school re-opening plan is a three-step, locally driven process that paves the way for schools to re-open at full capacity with a traditional school year start in August. The plan also utilizes federal stimulus funding to minimize achievement gaps further widened by COVID-19 school closures, as well as provides funding for K-12 Education, Higher Education and Child Care.

The Governor’s proposal outlines recommendations for reducing risk at the front door; redesigning the school day to reduce risks; and criteria for social interactions, such as graduation, sports and other extracurricular activities.

In addition to the detailed plan, the Governor’s office released the following outline highlighting the key components of the Governor’s proposal.

Recommendations for Re-Opening

Step-by-Step Approach: K-12 Campus Reopening Steps 1-2-3

  • Step 1 – June – open up campuses for youth activities and summer camps.
  • Step 2 – July – expand campus capacities further for summer recovery instruction.
  • Step 3 – August – open up campuses at full capacity for traditional start of the academic year.

Step-by-Step Approach: Postsecondary Campus Reopening

  • Summer A and C Semesters – state colleges, technical colleges and universities are generally virtual, with the exception of first responder and some CTE programs.
  • Summer B Semester – open state colleges and technical colleges for in-person summer learning.  State universities continue to remain virtual as they have already decided for Summer B.
  • Fall Semester – open state colleges, technical colleges and universities at full capacity for traditional start of the academic year.

Reopening Strategies

Reopening is a locally driven decision. Education institutions should create a local safe schools plan to maintain in-person learning, which is the best method of education delivery for students.

  • Create a framework for local planning by creating a Crisis Response Team.
  • Establish partnerships and support in communities to make local decisions.
  • Promote risk reduction through a great culture of teaching.
  • Protect students, staff, and families with medical vulnerabilities.
  • Recommendations to Reduce Risks at the Front Door 
  • Create a crisis response team at the district, school or program level, as applicable.
  • Post a crisis plan and response check list where they are easily accessible.
  • Consider screening students, employees and visitors through visual signage, verbal questions or visual assessments.
  • As feasible and while maintaining the goal of getting students on campus every day, explore staggered schedules, start and end times to limit crowds.
  • Monitor student and employee absenteeism closely, as absenteeism may be an early warning system of larger health concerns.
  • Regularly update employees, parents and students with emails on best practices for at-home preventative care.
  • Locally determine what constitutes an adequate prevention inventory that includes extra supplies of PPE, cloth face coverings, gloves, sanitizer, soap, etc.
  • Consider creating a protocol for incoming and outgoing mail and deliveries and consider creating a “timeout” or cleansing room.
  • Post signage about hygiene and social distancing in many very accessible areas.
  • Conduct employee trainings for all of the above and regular employee meetings on COVID-19 updates.

Recommendations to Redesign the School Day to Reduce Risks 

  • As feasible, keep groups of students together throughout the day to minimize the number of people in close contact with each person.
  • As feasible, convert cafeterias, libraries, gymnasiums, auditoriums and outdoor areas into classroom space.
  • Explore allowing students to eat meals in traditional classroom space or outdoors.
  • Move nonessential furniture and equipment out of classrooms to increase distance between students and turn desks the same direction.
  • Maintain a maximum distance between desks as possible, even if not able to achieve 6 feet, and avoid sharing of textbooks, supplies and toys.
  • Consider setting up a secondary clinic in schools, exclusively for students showing symptoms of COVID-19.
  • Establish procedures in consultation with school health staff to quickly separate students and staff who become sick from others.
  • Create a disinfection protocol for cleaning doorknobs, counters and other surfaces throughout the day.
  • Consider limiting nonessential visitors to campuses and programs.
  • Consider alternative meeting options for nonessential volunteer activities, clubs and other elective meetings that require in-person contact.
  • Explore limiting nonessential mass gatherings or reschedule as virtual gatherings.
  • Recommendations to plan for graduations, sports, band, arts, and other extracurriculars and co-curriculars 
  • Consult with the local department of health and the crisis response team.
  • At events, consider non-contact temperature testing of adults who will be direct participants and have close contact with students.
  • Monitor students who participate in extracurriculars for symptoms throughout the day.
  • All equipment, instruments, uniforms, etc. should be washed or wiped down after each use. 
  • Explore an increased presence of law enforcement or staff at events to maintain adherence to social distancing.
  • Consider limited seating at events while allowing families to sit together and marking off seating for social distancing.
  • Consider having attendees arrive at events earlier, stagger exits and allow for multiple entry and exit points.
  • Explore options to maintain social distancing at event facilities: public restrooms, concessions, etc.
  • Consider ways to limit close contact between participants and attendees until an event concludes.
  • Identify a space that can be used to isolate staff or participants if one becomes ill at an event.
  • Determine what are adequate prevention supplies to have at an event for participants and attendees, including hand sanitizing stations.

Cares Act Funding Distribution Highlights

This plan provides the Florida Department of Education’s (FDOE) implementation plan for the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act’s education and childcare related components. The plan includes potential opportunities to align FDOE-directed portions of the CARES Act with local education agencies’ (LEA) and postsecondary’ s (institutions of higher education or IHE) controlled CARES Act funding. This plan holds adequate reserve funds back for needs that may emerge closer to and during the 2020-2021 academic year.

The Four Education Related Categories of CARES Act Funding include:

  • Governor’s Emergency Education Relief Fund ($173,585,880). The purpose of this fund is to provide emergency support to local educational agencies, institutions of higher education and other education-related entities most impacted by the coronavirus or that the Governor deems essential for carrying out emergency educational services to students.
  • Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund ($770,247,851). The state can reserve up to 10% for state level activities and costs of administration, the remainder, at least 90%, is guaranteed to LEA’s. Twelve wide ranging specific activities are permitted for the use of these funds such as purchasing educational technology, providing mental health services and supports, summer learning programs, supplies to sanitize and clean facilities, and training and professional development.
  • Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund ($873,880,451). 75% of each institution’s allocation of their “institutional funds” ($791,549,000) are based upon their number of Pell grant recipients, and 25% based on their number of non-Pell grant recipients. The first half of institutional funds must go directly to students and institutions may not use these funds to reimburse the institution for other expenses.  Additionally, some institutions are also eligible for funds as minority serving institutions ($68,093,543) or improvement of postsecondary institution funding for smaller colleges ($14,237,908).
  • Child Care Development Block Grant – Child Care Fund ($223,605,118). Funds may be expended to provide continued payments and assistance to childcare providers due to decreased enrollment or closure, provide childcare assistance to health care, emergency response, and sanitation employees and other essential workers, and support providers for cleaning and sanitation activities to maintain or resume operation.

Summary of Governor’s Flexible Funding Initiatives with reference to attached slide for additional information:

  • First Responders and Health Care Workers - $44,000,000 (Page 95)
  • Emergency Child Care Relief Grants – $55,047,450 (Page 96)
  • High-Quality Reopening Support Grants - $16,905,385 (Page 97)
  • Successful Transition to Kindergarten - $20,900,825 (Page 98)
  • PreK-3 Progress Monitoring and Data Informed Supports - $20,000,000 (Page 20)
  • Upskill Highly Effective Reading Coaches - $5,000,000 (Page 103)
  • Capacity Building for Reading - $5,000,000 (Page 104)
  • Ensuring High Quality Regional Reading Supports - $5,000,000 (Page 105)
  • Summer Recovery - $64,000,000 (Page 107)
  • Additional Strategies to Support Summer Learning - $1,000,000 (Page 108)
  • Rapid Credentials - $35,000,000 (Page 111)
  • Pathway to Job Market Dashboard - $2,500,000 (Page 112)
  • CTE Equipment - $10,900,000 (Page 113)
  • Free SAT/ACT - $8,000,000 (Page 114)
  • Civic Literacy - $1,000,000 (Page 115)
  • Telehealth - $2,000,000 (Page 121)
  • Instructional Continuity Plans - $8,000,000 (Page 122)
  • Virtual Safety Net - $5,000,000 (Page 123)
  • Teacher Training on Virtual Learning Management Systems - $250,000 (Page 124)