TALLAHASSEE — Florida Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran "strongly recommended" Friday that school districts extend spring break by an extra week, in a sweeping attempt to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus known as COVID-19.
The Okaloosa County School District issued a statement late Friday afternoon that it would extend spring break. Representatives for the Walton County Sheriff’s Office which provides school resource officers for the school district, said they had been notified that students would not return to school before March 30.
Santa Rosa Superintendent Tim Wyrosdick was not immediately available for comment.
Corcoran’s recommendation allows the school districts to decide whether they will extend the break, which is currently under way in some districts. The week-long holiday takes place later this month in other counties.
In a press release issued Friday evening, Corcoran also said statewide testing of students will be delayed for at least two weeks.
The recommendation to extend spring break came as school officials nationwide shutter campuses, bracing for what the World Health Organization has identified as a pandemic.
"Keeping students healthy and safe is my number one priority, and that is why we are recommending that districts follow the CDC’s guidelines for Florida," Corcoran said in a prepared statement.
Earlier in the day, Gov. Ron DeSantis joined Corcoran on a phone call with district school superintendents and asked them to extend spring break, as recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s school guidelines for Florida.
None of the superintendents on the call objected to extending the vacations, Florida Department of Education spokeswoman Taryn Fenske told The News Service of Florida.
But some county officials, including Duval County Superintendent of Schools Diana Greene, expressed concern about having such short notice to inform students who were scheduled to return from spring break on Monday, Fenske said.
In addition to extending spring break, the federal guidelines advise school districts to "consider implementing individual" online instruction plans for students "at increased risk of severe illness." The CDC also recommended that officials temporarily suspend school activities to clean an area if a student, faculty or school worker is infected with the coronavirus, which is responsible for two deaths in Florida.
Following the phone call with Corcoran and the governor, officials in several school districts alerted parents about the specific measures they plan on taking to minimize the coronavirus risk to students and staff.
Palm Beach County Superintendent of Schools Donald Fennoy said schools will be closed until March 27 and district officials intend to use the extended break to "thoroughly clean and sanitize our schools, offices, and buses."
District leaders "will also take the opportunity to assess how to best transition to digital, remote learning in the event that we must remain closed for an extended period of time," Fennoy wrote in an email to parents.
Although schools will be closed, Fennoy said food would still be made available to families who need it.
The school closures are likely to upend the routines of nearly 3 million Florida students, including many who rely on their schools to provide lunch.
Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, the state’s top elected Democrat, said in a prepared statement that her office will help distribute meals to children who need them. Fried added that her office is working with the U.S. Department of Agriculture to provide schools with "flexible options" to make meals available to kids.
"For millions of Florida’s children, school meals are the only meals they can count on. We are working closely with school districts to ensure that students have access to healthy, nutritious meals while schools are closed due to COVID-19," she said.
Following guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention over the coronavirus, the Florida Department of Education has asked all Florida schools to close for two weeks for spring break from March 16 to March 27.
Escambia County and Santa Rosa County school districts have not confirmed they're closing yet. Okaloosa County did release a statement (see below).
Some officials in Walton County confirmed that spring break would be extended by a week and that students would not be returning before March. 30.
The Walton County Sheriff’s Office, which staffs the schools with officers, was notified that break would be extended, according to spokeswoman Corey Dobridnia.
Parents also received a robocall.
It was not clear late Friday afternoon whether students would be extended any services during the one-week break that stretched into two, or when teachers and staff members might be required to return to work.
Escambia County Superintendent Malcolm Thomas told the News Journal he was waiting on official word from the state of Florida before making an announcement, which he said he expects in the next hour.
Santa Rosa Superintendent Tim Wyrosdick was not available for comment.
Okaloosa issued the following statement about school cancellations:
Hello, this is a Health and Safety Update from the Okaloosa County School District.
In an abundance of caution, and under the direction of the State of Florida, Okaloosa County Schools will be closed the week of March 16th, which is our Spring Break week, and the Week of March 23rd. TO REPEAT. Okaloosa County Schools will be closed the week of March 16th, which is our Spring Break week, and the Week of March 23rd.
This included cancellation of all activities and events both in and out of county through the next two weeks.
Schools are tentatively scheduled to resume March 30.
We will provide updates through call out and our website on a regular basis.
The Health and Safety of our Students is our TOP Priority.