Campuses will remain closed to students for the rest of the school year as Gov. Ron DeSantis put to rest questions of whether students could be asked to finish the final month of school in person.
Differing opinions among parents and teachers helped solidify the decision DeSantis and Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran were already leaning toward, the Governor said. But his decision to keep schools closed comes amid pressure from the statewide teachers’ union and medical groups.
“It’s obviously not the ideal situation, but given where we are in the school year, we felt that that was the best decision to go forward,” he said.
However, the state’s momentum with distance learning helped make that choice easier.
“You have huge participation. Florida’s worked very hard to be a leader on that,” DeSantis said. “We have folks all over the country watching what we’re doing, so I felt that that was a good thing.”
Previously, the Governor and Corcoran had indicated that allowing kids to return, if only for two weeks, would help restore a sense of normalcy.
DeSantis, a Republican, said he understands the social impacts of kids not being able to see friends. He said he plans to ease some restrictions in the next phase so that “kids will have a little bit more to be able to do,” but he didn’t elaborate on what that would look like or when it might happen.
In his own home, his wife, Casey, has not left the house since the end of February. She gave birth to the couple’s third child at the end of March.
“I see how it is to be inside and not be able to go out every day inside my house,” he said.
The Department of Education (DOE) was weighing whether a reopening advisory would be limited to some school districts and whether parents could choose to have their children continue distance learning.
“I think you had kind of a division amongst folks whether this was a good idea or not, and I think the last thing you want to do is, like, force everyone in school then have half the kids not show up because their parents didn’t want, teachers didn’t want to do it.”
DOE first advised schools in mid-March to close until April 15. A later advisory pushed back the reopening date till May 4. In March, the department also announced the cancellation of spring 2020 state assessments, meaning that schools gained back instructional time that will allow local districts and schools to still end the school year based on their local calendars.
And with about two weeks remaining till teachers and students would need to return to campus, the Governor was pressed to announce the second extension soon.
School administrators across the state were advising against students returning. Giving students only two weeks of in-person classes would not have provided students a big enough academic benefit, DeSantis acknowledged.
Leon County Schools Superintendent Rocky Hanna wrote to the Governor on Wednesday that scrapping distance learning for the final two weeks “would be extremely disruptive, if not impossible.”
On Tuesday, the Florida Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, the Florida Chapter of the American College of Physicians, the Florida Osteopathic Medical Association and the Florida Academy of Family Physicians, joined with the Florida PTA in urging DeSantis to keep schools closed.
“(We) feel it is illogical to complete a school year in person that is capable of being completed, as has been proven in the last 30 days, virtually via distance learning,” the letter said. “The risk of encouraging a second yet equally dangerous secondary spread of the virus does not outweigh any potential reward of saving one month of school.”
The Florida Medical Association, the state’s largest physician group, did not sign onto the letter.
“Today’s recommendation to continue distance learning will give our students, their families, teachers and our school leaders the ability to maximize student learning, while ensuring everyone’s health and safety continues to be our first priority,” Corcoran said in a prepared statement Saturday evening.
After DeSantis’ announcement, Broward County Public Schools Superintendent Robert Runcie praised the Governor for his decision. Broward County has the second-most confirmed cases in the state with 3,838.
“It’s the right thing to do as the safety of our students, teachers and staff is the highest priority,” Runcie tweeted,
The White House’s “Opening Up America Again” framework also included keeping schools closed through phase one.
Material from The News Service of Florida was used in this report.