Key West High School and other Florida Keys public schools have been ordered to offer full-time, face-to-face instruction. Keys Weekly file photo

The state’s top education official has ordered Florida Keys schools to offer full-time, face-to-face instruction for all students by the end of the month despite the school district’s and the health department’s continuing concerns about community spread of the COVID virus.

“Parents will still have the option of keeping their older students who are currently on an A/B schedule on that schedule if they wish to do so,” states a press release issued Saturday by the school district.

In his directive, Commissioner of Education Richard Corcoran indicates that the Monroe County School District will face “significant financial penalties if we do not comply with his order,” Superintendent Theresa Axford told the county’s teachers in an internal email sent to teachers on Saturday.

In her email to teachers, Axford apologizes to them.

It is with a heavy heart that I write to you this afternoon,” Axford writes. “I received a letter from the Commissioner of Education on Friday afternoon at 5:09 p.m., which requires us to offer five days of in-person instruction to all students who want it. 

“We have been aware of a group of parents who have been pursuing this five-day, in-person option, but we believed that we were working with them to resolve their concerns. They apparently have been calling the Commissioner on a regular basis to complain.   

“We were using an A/B day based on our health department’s recommendation that our community spread of the virus was too high to bring all of our students in. Apparently the Commissioner does not believe that the level of community spread of the virus is an acceptable reason to not offer five days of face to face instruction. He has sent a clear directive that indicates there will be significant financial penalties if we do not comply with his order.

“I wish to support you in any way possible going forward and so does our School Board. We have met with principals and have asked them to set up teams in schools to revisit classroom lay-outs to maintain as much distance as possible and to relook at how we can make teachers and students safe. We are literally being ordered to do this and have no recourse at this time.  Please forgive me for having to share this news.”

In a statement issued publicly Sunday afternoon, Axford says: “Bringing students back to the classroom full time has always been a priority for me. But my actions have always taken into consideration the health and safety of all our students and staff. I have worked closely with our Health Department and School Board from day one in an effort to bring all students back when it is safe to do so. This order from the Commissioner of Education takes that decision out of our hands and we now find it necessary to resume full-time school for all students.

“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 and just last week we saw our juvenile transmission rate increase two percentage points in Monroe County,” Axford said. “I also believe our teachers are at risk. We are working to get them fully vaccinated, but that has not happened yet. That being said, we will work to make our schools as safe as possible for both students and teachers as we work to implement this order from the Commissioner of Education. We will be releasing more details as we work them out this week.”

A press release issued Saturday by the school district states, “The start date is still pending and will be announced as soon as possible once details are finalized.

“Parents will still have the option of keeping their older students who are currently on an A/B schedule on that schedule if they wish to do so. 

“A survey is being put together and will be sent out to parents to complete. The survey will be available online as well as on paper. Superintendent Axford encourages parents to fill it out as quickly as possible once it is available so the district will know how many kids intend to remain on alternating days and how many will be in the classroom. The survey is not available yet. When it is, the district will make an automated call to parents, as well as posting the information on the web site and on social media pages.”

Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran’s two-page letter to Axford:

Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran sent the above letter to Monroe County Schools Superintendent Theresa Axford late Friday. CONTRIBUTED

Superintendent Axford’s response to Corcoran:

Superintenent Theresa Axford sent the aove letter in response to Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran. MONROE COUNTY SCHOOL DISTRICT/Contributed


Mandy Miles
Mandy Miles drops stuff, breaks things and falls down more than any adult should. An award-winning writer, reporter and columnist, she's been stringing words together in Key West since 1998. "Local news is crucial," she says. "It informs and connects a community. It prompts conversation. It gets people involved, holds people accountable. The Keys Weekly takes its responsibility seriously. Our owners are raising families in Key West & Marathon. Our writers live in the communities we cover - Key West, Marathon & the Upper Keys. We respect our readers. We question our leaders. We believe in the Florida Keys community. And we like to have a good time." Mandy's married to a saintly — and handy — fishing captain, and can't imagine living anywhere else.