Ron DeSantis describes mental health as ‘the big enchilada’ amid school reopenings
Gov. Ron DeSantis

A mental health survey from the CDC Thursday unveils a dire situation as the pandemic continues.

As the first week of school continues for many districts, Gov. Ron DeSantis is making the push for reopening schools as a way to combat the COVID-19 pandemic’s effects on mental health.

In recent months, the Governor has stressed the importance of giving parents a choice to let children attend in-person classes or continue remote learning. He’s also highlighted the unseen mental health effects trigged by the pandemic and social distancing.

“It’s never been an easy issue,” DeSantis said Friday. “It’s an often neglected issue because it’s an easy issue to neglect if you really think about it.”

A televised sit-down with First Lady Casey DeSantis, Department of Children and Families Secretary Chad Poppell and others focused on mental health considerations for children.

“I think we’re only scratching the surface in terms of the fallout from dealing with the pandemic and how that’s influenced people’s lives,” the Governor said.

Outbreaks linger despite positive trends for Florida and the Sunbelt, and the economy took a substantial hit, but less than expected. Amid all the turmoil in people’s lives, DeSantis described mental health as “the big enchilada” for the state moving forward.

Teachers are required by Florida law to report abuse when they see evidence of it and are trained to recognize the signs. Although schools are a seasonal factor, they are the leading source of reports to the state’s child abuse hotline.

But calls to the hotline have fallen 40% after students went home in March at the start of the pandemic, a sign that abuse has continued unseen. That’s totaled 20,000 fewer calls, or as the First Lady described it, “250 schools buses packed full of kids, one right after the other.”

The roundtable comes on the heels of a U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that reveals 75% of those aged 18 to 24 are experiencing at least one mental or behavioral health symptom. More than 25% of people in that age cohort said they had seriously considered suicide in the 30 days leading up to the late June survey.

That revelation was “a kick in the gut” and “unbelievable,” Poppell said.

Graci McGillicuddy, board chair of the All Star Children Foundation, offered an emotional plea on behalf of disadvantaged children.

“It’s a disease that we can treat, we can control, but I don’t know what the ramifications are going to be to our population from the fear and the stress that this has caused on the brain,” she said.

“They can’t go to the Boys and Girls Club, they can’t go to Girls Incorporated, they can’t go to their neighbors and play, you can’t have birthday parties, you can’t go to church,” she added. “The children are absolutely isolated and locked down with the most horrendous cases of abuse.”

The First Lady has emphasized mental health as her main priority, and that has carried into the Governor’s Office. Despite $1 billion in budget cuts for the current fiscal year, the Governor approved a $25 million increase to the state’s mental health budget, raising its total funding to $100 million.

But the Governor faced questions about the state’s funding on mental health from reporters. His administration has emphasized mental health, he said, but the pandemic has made the need much more significant.

“There’re a lot of states that plow resources into things and get no results from it,” DeSantis said. “What we’re trying to do is have accountability, use the resources that we have, and there are more resources now in a tough budget year, and if it’s not working, holding people accountable, and that I think is something that has been missing.”

With concerns about classrooms or schools closing if a child develops symptoms, he noted a more “surgical approach,” sending certain groups of children home on a case-by-case basis as his preferred approach. Most districts have implemented that plan rather than shutting down entire schools.

While he’s maintained Florida’s virtual learning has been the rival of the nation, he’s emphasized the importance of in-person learning. Friday, he shared an optimistic tone for children who are learning from home.

“You don’t miss a beat, you’re there,” he said of distance learning.

Renzo Downey

Renzo Downey covers state government 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 [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @RenzoDowney.


  • Tjb

    August 14, 2020 at 5:18 pm

    If this pandemic ever ends, should we end home schooling?

  • DisplacedCTYankee

    August 15, 2020 at 4:53 am

    No, Gov DeMAGA, when the kids take the virus home from school, infect their parents, who then get sick and maybe die, that’s the “big enchilada.”

  • Ange Tekam

    August 24, 2020 at 9:35 am

    In the middle of this pandemic I have a 20 years old immigration issue that has ruined my life and is about to get me fired from my state of Florida job.

    I have to battle the pandemic like every one else. I also have a daughter that immigration has rendered mentally handicapped.
    When Patricia was released, she was not the same.
    Something had happened in that jail.
    She cried a lot and coiled up in bed . She didn’t say much . Then she was arrested again, driving without a license.
    She wasn’t answering the policemen questions. She didn’t understand English.
    so they sent her a hospital where she was diagnosed with selective mutism, and sent to a mental institution. Her family pleaded for her release, but they said she must stay for 6 months in observance.
    However, during the 6 months, she was drugged with anti psychotic drugs even though she refused.
    When 6 months passed and they said they needed to find community support for her to release her.
    Since she had no USA residency, such support wasn’t available for her. And so they didn’t release her, and refused to send her back to where she came from. I pleaded that her visa and passport will expire to no avail.

    In the meantime, I visited her and we will talk about all issues normally as we did before. She will complain about all that is going on and ask me to do more to see her out but all we did wasn’t enough to secure her freedom.

    The detention became indefinite. She refused any talks with them and that only infuriated the staff, and she went from isolation, to other tortures.
    It also pitted her amonst inmates as the person to pick on.
    From Escalations to more and stronger medication, Patricia was forced by psychiatric drugs to begin talking to anyone and to herself, laughing, senselessly.
    I became alarmed and desperate at the hospital destruction of the brilliant young woman. She was a medical student studying to become an Osteopathic physician.
    Then she stated to lose hair, teeth, and withered. She was also given crude birth control, which stopped her menstration at 32 years old.

    After 2 years I was told that she had negative symptoms of schizophrenia. Later more,
    She was diagnosed with schizophrenia with positive symptoms, and explained that previous conditions were negative symptoms of schizophrenia. Now she has positive symptoms.
    That is Her inability to speak English and her refusal to talk to them was a disease. They then drugged her to become brainless and with drugs in control, talking aimlessly, and all her zombified behavior was now another illness.
    SHe was now fully at their mercy. She joined groups of psychiatric drugs junkies to smoke , drink, and do all things that were said to be forbidden, yet available to mentally ill patients in this hospital care.
    We had been petitioning and continued to petition for her release to no avail.
    Alarmed at all these changes and the dangers she faced of never turning back to normal, i pleaded with the hospital. They said any drugs given to her was not the cause of these changes and that if they were, they will reverse if she stopped taking them.

    This was a lie since the medications given to her had precisely those side effects: Confusion, impulsivity, uncontrolled movements, …,
    From medication to medication, Patricia had become a junkie. I was arrested for picketing the hospital and jailed twice. I went to all local, state and congressional leaders for help.
    Their listening ended as soon as they heard that she wasn’t a citizen and was in a mental institution.
    It wasn’t their concern, she wasn’t their constituent.
    The courts enjoined me with a trespass order.
    I could not visit her.
    I didn’t see her for almost 2 years. I was informed that she wasn’t a Citizen and couldn’t benefit from any social and community service and that they will see what they can do to get her a green card to help them release her.

    That too, as well as her immigration process failed because she was locked up.
    When she was ordered deported,
    One day they just opened the door and let her out for a a family or the immigration to pick her up.
    Since then, I received a fully blown mentally handicapped person, not the young and vibrant medical student that came to visit me with a multiple entry visa.
    She doesn’t have a green card, so there are no medical or other social services available to her.

    I can’t put her on insurance since she’s passed 26 years. Although I care for all her needs, she’s not my dependent on my tax return either.

    She cannot work, go to day care or receive rehabilitation for lack of green card.
    She doesnt understand or speak English. It’s a balancing act to get someone to keep an eye on her while I work to take care of us. In this pandemic, no one will, because they are scared of contamination too.

    The only way for her to get a prescription for her health is through a Baker Act if the situation gets out of hand.
    When I file a Baker act, I make sure to ask that I should be there when the police picks her up. Since she doesn’t understand English and most of the times is in her own world, she may not understand or even pay attention to the police commands. That alone can get her killed.
    The police came to my house to pick her up. She wasn’t there. I asked them to come back when she will be there.
    I expressly told them again and again that she doesn’t speak English and hardly pays attention to people and environment when she is in a psychotic state.
    They promised they will. A few moments later, she came back home. She is restless and paces, walks miles, talking, gesturing under any whither. I called the non emergency police again. The lady on the phone said she had alerted the police of a suicide attempt in my address.

    I told her there was no suicide attempt. She responded that she has already sent the order and cannot cancel it.
    When the police spotted my daughter. they didn’t call me or asked for an interpreter . They battered her and sent her to jail.
    She is to face court today. She doesnt understand Enflish, cannot even reason on her own due to Illness.
    It took me almost 9 years to get her out of Mcclenny state hospital.

    The police was tired of having to take her into the hospital and so was the one hospital they preferred to take her to, even though there was a memorial hospital nearest to me.
    They cooked up this battery charge to lock her up according to our conversation that morning.
    As you can see I’m not battling just a pandemic. I have been battling to keep my job, with not so much success, work for me and my daughter, provide for her and to keep her safe In this pandemic as well.
    Now the police and the state attorney are working to take away the semblance of life that was left for Patricia after she brain purged for 9 years in an American prison/hospital institution.
    I couldn’t have survived if I call that survive, what she went through. I don’t think the intention of the police for sending her to jail is her survival either.

    If this was you, your child, your family or friends, what will you do?
    I’m am pleading to all of you. Do what you will do to Frer Patricia to finish her remaining years in dignity with her family, not in an institution for rejected and tocked away from our society. Patricia doesn’t like contact, if not for cigarettes she learned to smoke in McClenny state hospital.

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