Pasco County Schools has delayed the start of school for two weeks, but controversy continues over how the district should deliver instruction once the new school year begins.
The Pasco County School Board on July 21 unanimously approved changes in the school calendar to delay opening day from the original date of Aug. 10 to the new date of Aug. 24.
Board members also approved an Aug. 17 start date for employees, also a two-week delay from the originally planned Aug. 3.
Pasco County School Superintendent Kurt Browning recommended the two-week delay in the midst of rising COVID-19 cases in Florida.
Browning said the district plans to comply with the state directive that requires it to open all schools for five days a week, to provide a face-to-face learning option for students. It also will offer two online options.
Delaying the start date will require the district to make up for lost time, Browning said.
His staff has developed a plan that adds 18 to 20 instructional minutes to each school day, and will forego early release days during the fall semester, he said.
The board’s decision to delay reopening until Aug. 24, but to keep the brick-and-mortar option, came despite concerns raised by Don Peace, president of the United School Employees of Pasco, the union representing teachers and school support staff.
Peace said the directive by Florida Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran is “an overreach.
“You, as a board, should be the ones that determine the safest way to return to teaching and learning, but your authority was usurped by one man,” Peace said.
The state’s directive is being challenged, Peace added.
“Yesterday, in a court in Miami, the Florida Education Association filed suit against his order (Corcoran’s), labeling it ‘arbitrary and capricious.’ They further claimed that returning to brick-and-mortar now, with COVID numbers on the rise, would be unsafe for students and employees,” Peace said.
The union president also noted that a USEP survey of district employees found that “over 75% of those replying felt that the only safe way to return now is distance learning.”
He told board members that he expected the union to take a formal position on the issue soon.
But, School Board Chairwoman Colleen Beaudoin said the district can’t take an online-only approach.
“A lot of people are saying they want to start online and on time. That is currently not an option.
“One thing that is crystal clear is that we must follow statute to receive funding or nobody gets paid and our students lose out,” Beaudoin said.
School board member Alison Crumbley said delaying the school start provides more time for more information and more preparation.
“It gives us all a bit more time to see where the local trend of the virus is going,” Crumbley said.
It also gives parents more time to reflect on options, and schools more time to prepare, she said.
“The challenge of balancing student achievement with safety is a daunting one,” Crumbley said.
School board member Cynthia Armstrong said a delay of two weeks allows the district to end the first semester before the holiday break, which she thinks is important.
A longer break would not allow that possibility, she said.
The district’s union since has taken a formal position on the reopening of schools.
According to the union’s website, USEP will strongly advocate for distance learning only until there is a 14-day downward trend in positive COVID-19 cases.
Published July 29, 2020