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Corcoran Orders Monroe Schools To Provide Full-Time On-Campus Learning

an image of key west high school with a conch shell sculpture out front
Nancy Klingener
Most middle and high school students in Monroe County have been attending classes on an alternating schedule of one day on campus, then one day virtual learning from home.

Monroe County public school students will be able to return to their classrooms five days a week before the end of this month.

The school district is coming up with a plan for the full reopening under pressure from the state Commissioner of Education.

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Since last September, students in pre-K through fifth grade have been attending school in person every day, while most middle and high school students in the Keys have been attending in-person every other day and doing distance learning on the other days.

On Friday, Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran sent a letter to Monroe Superintendent Theresa Axford, saying unless all students had the option of attending school five days a week, "that would be grounds for the Department to withdraw its approval of Monroe's Spring 2021 Education Plan."

That could mean the loss of state funds for the district. In his letter, Corcoran said full-time in-person attendance should be available to all students by March 15. Despite the state approving the district's reopening plan, the commissioner wrote Monroe County schools “may not be fully complying” with his order to offer in-class instruction five days a week.

In a reply Saturday, Axford wrote that the district contests the notion that it has been out of step with Corcoran's executive order about re-opening schools. She argued the order allowed local decisions to be made in consultation with the public health officials, including the local office of the Department of Health — and that doing so had led to Monroe having "one of the lowest rates of transmission among the Florida school districts."

She also asked for the date to fully re-open be pushed back to March 29 because 12 of the 18 transportation department workers in the Upper Keys have tested positive for COVID-19 or are quarantining because of possible exposure to the virus. That has forced the district to revise its bus routes. The quarantined staff are scheduled to return to work on March 15 — and then the district goes on spring break from March 22 through 26.

On Saturday, the Monroe district sent out a press release notifying parents that it was working on a plan to return to school full-time — which would be optional. The district is putting together a survey for parents, to be available on-line and on paper.

In a statement on Sunday, Axford said the commissioner's order takes the decision about full-time classroom attendance "out of our hands."

“I am concerned because this will make it impossible for us to follow guidelines from the CDC and Health Department when it comes to social distancing. The COVID case counts and positivity rates in our population are still concerning,” she said in the statement. “I also believe our teachers are at risk. We are working to get them fully vaccinated, but that has not happened yet."

Monroe County's 7-day average for COVID-19 positivity as of Saturday, March 6, was 4.7%. The 14-day average was 5.48%.

The district already sent out a plea to students and parents not to travel over spring break, noting that CDC guidelines say you should get tested after travel and self-quarantine for at least seven days — and that the district has important testing scheduled for after school resumes March 29.

Want to keep up with the latest stories out of the Florida Keys like this one? Sign up for The Tieline, our newsletter focused on all things Keys and Monroe County. The newsletter will arrive in your inbox every two weeks and is written and curated by WLRN’s southernmost reporter Nancy Klingener. She shares her reporting, the latest news out of the Keys and much more. Head here to sign up.

Nancy Klingener was WLRN's Florida Keys reporter until July 2022.
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