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Ron DeSantis school reopening plan ignores crucial questions

School Districts should reject plans until more consideration is given.

School districts across the state are in ongoing discussions to reopen schools next month for in-person learning , a plan that will be largely driven by state and federal government strong-arming.

Gov. Ron DeSantis, through Education Secretary Richard Corcoran, mandated schools open five days a week, with plans in place to prepare for full reopening, though the plan left the option for parents to continue distance learning.

President Donald Trump and his Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos, took to social media and national television to threaten school districts, saying if they didn’t fully reopen, they would lose federal funding.

Local school boards should reject the bullying tactics from elected and appointed officials who have consistently shown they care less about public health and more about placating to their mask-hating, pandemic-denying base (yes, not all of their supporters fit into this box, but enough do, a particularly vocal bunch I might add, to make it worth mentioning.)

The current conversation makes sweeping assumptions while ignoring crucial questions, which have gone largely unanswered at the local level and almost entirely undiscussed at the state level.

DeSantis has stated over and over that opening schools is, basically, no big deal. Why? Because kids are resilient little buggers whose health outcomes are statistically favorable even with a pandemic still raging in Florida, more so than it was when the Governor first decided it was prudent to close schools in the first place.

How, when we were counting cases in the tens and hundreds, was closing schools more crucial for public health than it is now, at a time when the state is routinely logging 10,000 cases per day, some days more?

But it’s more than that. His youthful resilience claim is fair. Children do indeed stand a better chance of weathering this virus than their adult parents, aunts and uncles, and especially more so than their grandparents and great grandparents.

But that claim ignores the thousands upon thousands of teachers and staff members, many of whom are no longer blessed with youth.

Even if schools employ robust social distancing in the classroom, what about the hallways? Do you think kids, who were shut off from their friends for weeks, if not months on end, are going to maintain six-feet of distance while they shuffle from one class to the next? They won’t.

Maybe that is feasible in elementary schools, but certainly not in middle and high schools where children are not chaperoned from one room to the next.

These kids, who, let’s face it, were germ buckets long before the age of coronavirus, are going to be subjecting their innocent whims to their adult educators and mentors.

Those kids go home to families. Those teachers go home to families. It’s not just the kids.

Also left unanswered is the question of what happens when a teacher or student does get sick. And mark my words, that WILL happen. If a student who has seven classes tests positive for the coronavirus, do all of his teachers have to then self-quarantine? What about the kids in his classes?

How will schools stay open when a rash of teachers have to clock out for a two to three week quarantine? What substitute is going to want to work on substitute pay at great risk to their personal health?

How will families be notified if their student was potentially exposed to a person who tested positive for COVID-19? Will those families be on the honor system for keeping their child home?

What about the asymptomatic student who goes to school despite a positive test because her parents had no other choice? You know, the same way all those kids came to school with a common cold pre-pandemic. Parents, you know what I’m talking about.

We’ve long bred a culture that rewards going to school or work while sick. “Are you really THAT sick?” What makes anyone think this will be any different? And are you really willing to risk that on the honor system?

None of these questions have been answered. They’ve barely even been broached. That is unacceptable. Our teachers, students and families deserve the time and effort necessary to ensure safety AND stability.

But yet DeSantis is more content comparing daily education in an indoor setting, which he admits doesn’t promote safety, to a trip to Home Depot, a place where you get in and get out, not spend several hours a day, five days a week.

I’m not saying schools shouldn’t open at all. There are students from disadvantaged families who simply cannot manage the burden of distance learning. Those families need options.

But those families are exactly the reason these conversations need to continue and thoughtful work needs to be done to ensure that for those not fortunate enough to have the option of keeping their kids home next month, safety is still paramount.

That cannot happen until these tough conversations occur.

It’s not only our kids’ health at stake. It’s our teachers, our educational support staff and families who are at risk. And done improperly, the experiment that is reopening will ultimately fail. The biggest losers in that scenario are not the families who were able to keep their kids home. It’s the ones who couldn’t.

Janelle Irwin Taylor has been a professional journalist covering local news and politics in Tampa Bay since 2003. Most recently, Janelle reported for the Tampa Bay Business Journal. She formerly served as senior reporter for WMNF News. Janelle has a lust for politics and policy. When she’s not bringing you the day’s news, you might find Janelle enjoying nature with her husband, children and two dogs. You can reach Janelle at Janelle@floridapolitics.com.

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