School board votes to let YMS take D.C. trip

OKEECHOBEE — At an emergency meeting on March 10, the Okeechobee County School Board voted to let the Yearling Middle School field trip to Washington, D.C., go on as planned, despite coronavirus fears.

Parents of the 44 eighth graders going to Washington will be given a chance to opt out of the trip, with the school district offering to refund the amount paid out of pocket.

The emergency meeting was called after a conference call with Florida Commissioner of Education Richard Corcoran at 11 a.m. on March 10. On that call Mr. Corcoran told school superintendents that he was strongly recommending no out-of-state travel, particularly when using airlines.

Mr. Corcoran reportedly reiterated that statement four different times throughout the phone call.

When pressed by superintendents on the conference call if he was asking for a ban on out-of-state travel, Mr. Corcoran clarified that it was only a strong recommendation. The Orange County School District took the commissioner’s recommendation and suspended all student field trips involving air travel.

Earlier in that call, the education commissioner said he’s recruiting more teachers for the virtual school in case of a shutdown. Mr. Corcoran said the state is prepared to train an additional 10,000 teachers in the next 15 to 20 days to conduct online classes in case schools need to be closed. He also cautioned that currently the Florida Department of Education isn’t anywhere close to making that decision.

Okeechobee County School Board member Joe Arnold said he was comfortable letting the trip continue as planned, while giving parents the option to opt out.

“When you look at the populations most at risk from the virus, it is the immunocompromised and the elderly,” said Mr. Arnold. “When you look at the youth that have gotten it, they have been successful in recovering. Because it’s a low-risk population, I believe it should be a parental decision at this point. I do believe parents need to be made aware of the situation if they’re not aware. At the end of the day I’m comfortable allowing travel with the parents knowing the risk.”

The rest of the board agreed with that sentiment and liked the idea of parents signing a waiver for the trip.

“We have not gotten any feedback from parents saying they don’t want their child to go,” said YMS teacher Megan Williamson at the board meeting. “As an educator my first priority is the safety of the children. We have been on the CDC website and we are taking every precaution that they have recommended.”

“I don’t want anyone to get sick,” continued Mrs. Williamson, “but at the same time I feel like I could load the same 44 students up and take them to Walmart here in Okeechobee and expose them to the same things they will be exposed to in Washington, D.C. We don’t live in a bubble. As an educator my goal is to see them have this experience. We’ll go, wash our hands and take extra precautions. This will probably be the cleanest field trip we’ve ever had.”

Students and chaperones left for Washington, D.C., on March 11.

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