Local officials this week have asked for consistent COVID-19 messaging from Gov. Ron DeSantis‘ administration, but the Governor on Wednesday responded saying he has stayed consistent.
During a Tuesday roundtable, Miami-Dade County mayors called for unity and leadership on the state’s pandemic messaging. And Wednesday morning, education leaders broke with DeSantis and Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran on the Department of Education’s emergency order telling schools to reopen next month.
“The message with Miami-Dade is consistent,” the Governor said. “I’m supporting the County Mayor and what he’s doing. I’m supporting those municipal Mayors. I may not agree with them on everything politically, but this isn’t really about politics or it’s not about the typical tit for tat.”
DeSantis earned some criticism from local Mayors during the roundtable, such as Miami Gardens Mayor Oliver Gilbert III, who argued the state and region reopened too quickly.
“The proximity is what’s hurting us right now, and we weren’t closed long enough to actually create good habits,” Gilbert argued. “We don’t have the habit now of wanting to wear a mask. It should be second nature.”
Miami Beach Mayor Dan Gelber also doubted confidence in schools reopening safely.
“I’m not sure all of our parents feel like they know, frankly, if it’s going to be safe enough,” Gelber said.
During a Board of Education meeting Wednesday, which saw DeSantis make a surprise appearance to present his case for schools reopening, one board member insisted Corcoran rescind his order, which requires schools to open five-days and other school officials voiced concerns. Th Board member, Michael Olenick, said the order became politicized and presented a contradictory message, one given without the Board of Education’s approval.
“What needs to happen is we, or you, Commissioner, need to rescind that five day a week, because what I’m hearing today about flexibility and all the things we’re doing to help them is contrary to that mandate of five days a week.”
DeSantis and his administration have left much of the reopening specifics to local leaders, but some of those leaders have requested clear guidance from the top down. The Governor has said Florida is like five states in one, and said an order meant to combat the spread in dense South Florida should not affect Northwest Florida.
“At the end of the day, these school superintendents have unique constituencies and it’s going to be a collaborative effort,” DeSantis said. “I don’t think that it’s just going to be the Department of Education. I think they can recommend, but I don’t think that they can dictate every decision on this.”
Some parents are “naturally concerned,” he said, but the majority want their children in a face-to-face classroom setting.
By addressing the needs and concerns of parents locally, the first day of school will likely look different across the state as some districts get permission from their local health departments to stay closed while other implement mask or testing rules.
“But there is a consistent message when it comes to education statewide,” DeSantis said, “and that is parents have the right to choose the appropriate environment for their child, that if they want to offer distance learning, then they should absolutely be able to do that, and that option should be provided.”