Facing state pressure, Miami schools OK reopening next week

MIAMI (AP) — Faced with a state ultimatum, the Miami-Dade school board agreed unanimously to reopen schools for classroom instruction next week despite looming fears that they’re unprepared to prevent another spike in coronavirus infections.

It was either share classroom air again or lose millions in state funding by scratching a reopening plan approved by Florida Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran. He ordered the board in a letter last week to follow through on Monday, and said the state would allow only case-by-case exceptions for certain schools.

FILE- In this Aug. 31, 2020 file photo, Miami-Dade County Public Schools’ superintendent Alberto Carvalho leans over to greet students remotely during a visit to Ms. Vanessa Acosta’s, right, 1st grade class during a brief visit to Bob Graham Education Center in Miami Lakes, Fla. Authorities announced, Thursday, Sept. 3, 2020, that a 16-year-old student has been arrested for orchestrating a series of network outages and cyberattacks during the first week of school in Florida’s largest district. (Carl Juste/Miami Herald via AP, File)

Corcoran’s letter objected to a previous board decision to postpone classroom instruction, perhaps until late October, so that more safety measures could be implemented and personal protective equipment obtained for teachers and staff.

Miami-Dade has both the largest school district in Florida, and the state’s worst coronavirus caseload.

Both President Donald Trump and Gov. Ron DeSantis have pushed for classroom instruction to begin again. State officials granted flexibility to South Florida districts to continue with online learning because of their high virus caseloads.

Florida’s health department has since begun releasing statistics on coronavirus cases “associated with” individual schools. The vast majority showed total caseloads in the single digits.

Two high schools in the Florida Panhandle where some parents have complained about repeated quarantines of students who sat next to asymptomatic infected classmates had the highest number of confirmed cases, at 31 and 22. In Miami-Dade, where schools have struggled to successfully implement remote instruction this school year, no school has more than four infections, the numbers show.

Still, the teacher’s union condemned the board’s decision to restart physical classes next Monday, saying it was done “too quickly and without preparation.”

“The pressure from President Trump and Governor DeSantis proved to be far greater a force on our school board than our pleas for public health and safety,” said United Teachers of Dade President Karla Hernandez-Mats in a statement. “When it came to our teachers, children and families in Miami-Dade, our board succumbed to the pressures.”