As teachers across the state begin returning to their classrooms this week, Gov. Ron DeSantis reiterated Monday the importance of reopening Florida schools.
Joined by Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran for a roundtable at Winthrop College Prep Academy in Riverview, the pair highlighted the flexibility and safety offered by public and charter schools statewide. Additionally, the two trumpeted the social and economic benefits of providing parents the option to allow their student to return to school.
“I think that’s especially true for a lot of our low income families,” DeSantis said. “You have families in Florida, they may have one single mom that has three kids in school and she’s gotta work. There’s just no two ways about it and having an option like what they’re doing here really can mean the world to a lot of parents like that. We understand the importance the school plays for some folks throughout the state of Florida.”
The ripple effect from not providing an in-person learning option is a recurring theme for the Governor and Education Commissioner. Together, the pair maintained negative impacts from an online learning medium such as an accelerated achievement gap outweigh the risks of COVID-19.
“Some of this stuff is not debatable anymore,” DeSantis said. “The fact is in terms of the risk to school kids, this is lower risk than seasonal influenza.”
Beyond the classroom, DeSantis, a former high school and collegiate athlete himself, doubled down on his interest in finding a way for school sports to continue.
As with online learning, he argued the point in terms of risk assessment.
“These students worked their whole lives to be able to get to this point and they shouldn’t have their seasons taken away from them,” he said. “There’s never anything you do in life that is entirely risk free.”
Statewide, COVID-19 trends continue to show improvement. On Monday, the Florida Department of Health confirmed 4,155 new cases, about half what the state reported in Sunday’s report.
Notably, there have been 39,735 COVID-19 cases among kids under 18 since the pandemic’s onset. Of those cases, 36% have been among high-school-age kids 14-17, 26% among elementary-school-age kids 5-10 years old and 17% in middle school ages 11-13. Kids in daycare and pre-k, those ages 1-4, represent 16% of all pediatric cases.
Meanwhile, Corcoran pointed out that even in Miami-Dade, where cases are notably higher than most of the state, some schools intend to open face-to-face instruction for children with “unique abilities.”
“They recognize that there’s no way you can provide those services any other way effectively,” he said. “The consequences of not being face-to-face, of not offering those therapies to those students is so much more damaging than any minimal risk to COVID.”
Schools and related extracurricular activities have been shut down in Florida since mid-March as COVID-19 began to spread across the state.