State Directive Upsets Schools Board Facing Health Crisis

Todays News

BY JACOB OGLES SRQ DAILY FRESHLY SQUEEZED CONTENT EVERY MORNING THURSDAY MAR 19, 2020

An outbreak of coronavirus prompted Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran to cancel school through April 15, but he also cancelled the meetings of county School Boards for months. The latter move angered elected officials who say the Commissioner reached beyond what the law allows.

“I can't believe what I’m reading from DOE [Department of Education],” wrote Manatee School Board member Charlie Kennedy on Twitter, who characterized the action as a “power grab” in the middle of a health crisis.

Corcoran’s office on Tuesday evening sent out a directive regarding schools and colleges that included direction that “all district school board and state college board of trustees meetings through June 30.” The directive only allowed for emergency meetings called by a district superintendent unless that position was vacant.

Taryn Fenske, DOE communications director, later characterized the directive as “strong recommendations” from Corcoran based on guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC right now has discouraged all gatherings of 10 or more people, something that would cover even the most poorly attended School Board meeting.

“This guidance was provided to ensure that everyone remains healthy and safe as we mitigate the spread of COVID-19,” Fenske said. “Just like beaches, restaurants, nightclubs, and bars we would hope our school board members would act responsibly and follow CDC guidelines.”

Sarasota County School Board member Bridget Ziegler said she was of two minds. Such guidance will likely bring to a halt an ongoing search for a new superintendent here, she said. But officials must remain mindful of public health as well.

“it’s two fold. It’s clear it is a matter of public safety that people should not be meeting at this time. This directive eliminates that risk,” she said. “However, during extraordinary times, such as these, people look to their elected officials to lead. This makes that more difficult. I am confident we will have to have at least one ‘emergency’ meeting, and I believe we can host it virtually — so that the public can view and participate.”

Photo of Manatee School Board Building.

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