Facing pressure from Florida officials, the school board in Miami-Dade County voted on Tuesday to begin opening classrooms nine days earlier than planned. The district’s youngest students can now return to schools on Monday, with nearly all students who have opted for in-person instruction returning by the end of next week.
The decision will make Miami-Dade, the fourth-largest school system in the United States and the largest in Florida, with roughly 345,000 students, by far the biggest public school district in the country to offer students in-person classes five days a week. About half of the district’s families have opted for in-person learning.
Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Republican and ardent supporter of President Trump, has followed the president’s lead by demanding that all schools in Florida reopen for in-person learning. The state allowed only its three largest counties, Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach, to continue offering fully remote instruction past Aug. 31.
Last week, the Miami-Dade school board had voted to reopen schools on Oct. 14, with all students returning by Oct. 21. The board expressed concerns about whether schools were fully prepared to implement safety measures to minimize the spread of the coronavirus. On Wednesday, the 14-day average positivity rate reported for the county was 4.46 percent.
But on Friday, the board received a letter from the state’s education commissioner, Richard Corcoran, calling on the district to fully open schools by Oct 5. The district feared that if it did not comply, the state might withhold funds.
Broward County, Florida’s second-largest district, is currently planning to open schools on Oct. 14 and received a similar letter from Mr. Corcoran. The board will hold an emergency meeting on Thursday, but the superintendent, Robert Runcie, has said that he believes the district should stick with its planned date.
New York City, the largest district in the country, has been gradually reopening schools, but on a hybrid model, with students allowed to split their time between in-person and remote learning.
United Teachers of Dade, the union representing Miami-Dade teachers, had praised the board’s decision last week to delay reopening schools. On Tuesday, the union’s president, Karla Hernandez-Mats, criticized the reversal, saying that “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.”