SCHOOLS REOPENING

THE ISSUE: Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran orders brick-and-mortar school reopening in Florida.

OUR OPINION: While the statewide edict was fuzzy, Citrus has a good plan in place.

Earlier this month, State Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran ordered that all Florida schools open at least five days a week starting in August, unless local and state health officials say it’s unsafe for children to return to school.

The plan in Citrus is to reopen physical school buildings and also offer the flexibility of Citrus Virtual School to those wanting to learn from a distance while limiting potential exposure to COVID-19.

The Citrus County School Board came out with an extensive plan with guidance from the Florida Department of Health in Citrus County, and it’s about as good as it can get given the fluidity of the spread of the coronavirus. However, no student will return to brick-and-mortar schools risk-free of catching COVID-19, and bringing it home to spread to others.

About 15% of Citrus students and parents have so far chosen to continue education virtually in the upcoming semester. That number (around 2,500) is significant, but a great majority of students will return to physical campuses.

Corcoran’s order sparked confusion, fear and angst among educators, parents and education stakeholders across the state. With the number of COVID-19 cases and deaths still on the rise, it’s easy to be concerned about the potential for widespread contagion in such compact, closed quarters.

Adequate CDC-recommended social distancing by students, especially our youngest students, is probably an impossible goal to meet. Let’s face it — kids love coming in close contact with each other and they miss their friends.

In areas like Miami-Dade where thousands are testing positive every day, the brick-and-mortar order seems especially hazardous. Florida’s education district’s are not one-size-fits-all, that’s certain.

It’s imperative that in terms of reopening, we err on the side of caution to prevent a super-surge of cases in Citrus. Our median age demographic is much too vulnerable to the harshest effects of the virus, and we can’t overwhelm our hospitals to the point of overcapacity.

We see the varying family dynamics in Citrus and economic circumstances pushing students back into brick-and-mortar classrooms – some kids and guardians need the solid foundation that the school system provides. Many working parents need the convenience of dropping off their kids at school for the day; the pandemic has taken a toll on the availability of daycare and their overall stamina as a parent. However, students’ returning to school in large numbers is a gamble.

Our local school board leaders are putting the best plans in place that they can, and we commend them and the staff of the Citrus County School District for their hard-work and dedication to keeping kids as safe and healthy as they can.

There isn’t too much time left before the first day of school, and while we see the value of reopening brick-and-mortar campuses, it certainly poses the potential for risk and further spreading of COVID-19.