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Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks after signing the 2020-21 budget during a news conference at the Capitol in Tallahassee. On Wednesday, he began a new messaging approach in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. COLIN HACKLEY PHOTO

Coronavirus in Florida

With new messaging approach, Ron DeSantis OKs delaying classes

Delay classes for a few weeks? “Have at it.”

Gov. Ron DeSantis is shifting strategies as his office looks to put this chapter of the coronavirus pandemic in the rearview mirror.

Breaking from his usual on-the-road press conference Wednesday in favor of a televised speech from the Capitol Cabinet meeting room, the Governor stressed his usual talking points. But new in his latest “conversation” with the state was a green light for school districts to put the school year on pause if necessary.

“If a school district needs to delay the school year for a few weeks so that everything will be in good shape, have at it,” DeSantis said. “The important thing is that our parents have a meaningful choice when it comes to in-person education.”

The Governor has previously said parents may opt to keep their children in virtual classes, and he made clear that teachers may also choose to work remotely if they feel uncomfortable in a classroom setting.

“Why force someone to be in the classroom if they’re uncomfortable doing so?” he said. “Let’s just find a way to make do.”

Within his message still is the insistence that distance learning was a “stopgap measure” and that reopening schools will give options to parents and students.

“Let’s be honest, it’s a far cry from in-person instruction, and it placed a tremendous burden on our working parents,” DeSantis said.

And children are still unlikely vectors for the COVID-19 virus, he again said. When they do become infected, they rarely develop severe symptoms, DeSantis maintained.

However, state health officials confirmed on Wednesday another child died in Florida after contracting the virus — a 9-year-old girl from Putnam County. Previously, the youngest Floridians to die with the disease were 11 years old.

The changes in the Governor’s delivery coincides with a shakeup in his communications team. Former Communications Director Helen Aguirre Ferré left the Governor’s Office last week to join the Republican Party of Florida as its new Executive Director. In to replace her is Fred Piccolo, previously House Speaker José Oliva‘s spokesman.

Throughout much of the pandemic, DeSantis has been on the defensive, taking blows from the national and local media for resisting issuing a lockdown order, reopening soon after and his continued refusal to require face masks in public. And while the rate of new infections is trending down, the death toll has continued rising in recent weeks.

Earlier this month, Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran ordered schools to reopen in August.

Amid criticism from parents, school officials and even within the Board of Education, Corcoran and DeSantis have insisted the order was not meant to supersede schools’ decisions to close. However, their only route to remaining closed is through approval from local health departments.

Core still to the Governor’s message is that schools are safe just like any business, essential or not, that remained open during the pandemic. Closing schools over a virus that had less impact on children than the flu would deprive students of a proper education and extracurricular activities.

“The choice before us,” DeSantis said, “is whether we face our challenges with determination and resolve, guided by evidence, or whether we allow ourselves to become paralyzed by fear.”

Written By

Renzo Downey covers the Florida Legislature for Florida Politics. After graduating from Northwestern University in 2019, Renzo began his reporting career in the Lone Star State, covering state government for the Austin American-Statesman. Shoot Renzo an email at renzo@floridapolitics.com and follow him on Twitter @RenzoDowney.

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