The Department of Education’s school reopening order left some question about whether schools had to reopen come August.
Senate President Bill Galvano left no room for doubt.
“Yes, the answer is yes. The DOE cannot be ignored … must be adhered to,” he clarified. “School boards cannot ignore this order.”
Sitting alongside Gov. Ron DeSantis at a Saturday press conference in his hometown of Bradenton, the top Senate Republican fielded the question when the Governor was unable to give a confident answer about the order issued Monday by Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran.
“The order specifically says five days availability, brick and mortar schools at full capacity,” Galvano said.
Members of the Manatee County School Board, including Vice Chair Charlie Kennedy, disputed this week that individual districts had to adhere to the Commissioner’s K-12 schools order, according to the Bradenton Herald.
“This is another one of those Richard Corcoran edicts that he probably doesn’t have the actual power to make,” Kennedy said. “I think there’s going to be some legal questions.”
As COVID-19 outbreaks spike in Florida, the Commissioner’s mandate said extending school closures can impede students’ educational success and prevent parents and guardians from returning to work. And in addition to getting Floridians back to work, DeSantis said children are missing out on critical face-to-face education.
“The main thing is, what’s in it for the kids? What harm is going to be done by continuing to keep them out of school?” DeSantis asked.
The Governor has credited the state’s distance learning apparatus with keepig Florida’s students ahead of the curve amid the pandemic. And other states have asked Corcoran for advice in implementing their virtual school platforms, DeSantis added.
“As much as we’re proud of that, look, there’s an achievement gap that’s developed. There’s no doubt about it,” he said. “That will only be exacerbated as long as this happens.”
Children make up one of the smallest cohorts for positive infections, and an even smaller share of hospitalizations and deaths. As of Saturday morning, 12,599 of Floridians’ quarter million COVID-19 diagnoses are in those younger than 15. Of those, 157 have been hospitalized and two have died — both 11.
With a low risk for severe infection, DeSantis says he would have no problem sending his children to school if they were of that age. Additionally, he says studies show and other countries have seen that children are not the main vectors for the novel coronavirus.
“That’s I think pretty clear in terms of the data and the facts, and if people have other facts that they can show, I mean, I’m happy to look at it, but we’ve looked at this six ways,” he said.
And the Governor emphasized that local governments and elected officials are instrumental in collaborating on what the reopening looks like within each school district. Galvano agreed.
“This is not just a one sentence order. It’s very comprehensive,” the Senate President said. “A lot of time went into it. Commissioner Corcoran wanted to give direction.”
In mid-March, the Commissioner advised schools to close for the next month before subsequent orders advised that they stay closed through the school year. However, those announcements left the final decision up to school districts.
After unveiling portions of the state’s school reopening plan in the past few weeks, Corcoran’s order now leaves the decision to parents regarding whether their child will attend in-person classes.
That mandate came within hours of a tweet by President Donald Trump demanding that schools open for the new school year.
Since the end of the lockdown days of the pandemic, DeSantis has sought to reframe what makes an essential service, those deemed critical enough to stay open. To business owners, any and all businesses are essential he said, calling the essential label an “illusory distinction.”
On Saturday, he continued rethinking what constitutes an essential service.
“Most businesses still operated, you had most of them across the state of Florida, you had things that operated every day,” the Governor said. “I think in terms of if you look at things that are the most essential, to me, education is as high amongst them as I can fathom. It’s very, very important.”