Parents will again have the option to send their children to school in-person or remotely for the spring 2021 semester, Gov. Ron DeSantis announced Monday.
As COVID-19 diagnoses rise nationwide and Florida approaches 1 million cases, schools around the country face questions about whether they will close again as they did in March. In the Sunshine State, parents will keep their ability to choose what they believe is best for their children.
“Every parent in Florida can take that to the bank,” DeSantis told reporters at Boggy Creek Elementary School in Kissimmee.
DeSantis and Corcoran emphasized the importance of in-person learning. The order requires students struggling with virtual learning to shift to brick-and-mortar classrooms unless their parents formally object.
“The data and the evidence is overwhelmingly clear, virtual learning is just not the same as being in person,” said DeSantis, who has argued that schools are safe amid the pandemic.
“We wanted to figure out a way to still offer the parents choice, but to really put the onus on the school districts to be monitoring this, and when they see students fall behind, to really be affirmative and engaging with the parents,” DeSantis continued.
The updated emergency order asks schools to make “massive interventions” and alert parents if their children are struggling with virtual learning. Those parents will then have to reaffirm their decision to keep their children in remote learning.
“The tragedy of all this is the evidence has been remarkably clear since the spring that closing schools offers virtually nothing in terms of virus mitigation, but it poses huge costs on our kids, on our parents and on our society,” DeSantis said.
DeSantis, who attended a high-school football playoff game Friday in Vero Beach, called the closure of schools during the pandemic “probably the biggest public health blunder in modern American history.” Florida and other states closed schools in March as the pandemic hit, and some areas of the country have shuttered classrooms again this fall.
DeSantis said the harm from the closure of schools will “reverberate” for years and labeled people who advocate for closing schools as “today’s flat earthers.”
“All you had to do is talk to a teacher, they all said the same thing, that it was not the same, and that kids were falling behind,” DeSantis added.
Under the Department of Education and Commissioner Richard Corcoran‘s new order, school districts will submit plans for their interventions by Dec. 15. That order places the onus on school districts to ensure that students are keeping pace, the Governor added.
“It’s important that when you’re dealing with children’s lives, if you’re dealing with human beings being who they are and you’re dealing with dignity, you should not just emotionally, willy-nilly, without scientific evidence, put them in harm’s way, which is what was happening absent a Governor who was willing to stand in the gap,” Corcoran said.
While some parents are keeping their children home to prevent them from catching the virus at school, DeSantis and Corcoran argued schools are the safest places for children because of constant adult supervision, even without a mask mandate.
“As much as I like to think that I’m a decent parent, they’re down the street playing flag football with each other, they’re at the basketball court playing without an adult, without instruction, without discipline, without all those things that happen every day in a school absent interventions with COVID,” Corcoran said.
The Department of Education closed schools in March to prevent the spread of COVID-19. However, President Donald Trump, DeSantis and Corcoran pushed for classrooms to reopen for the fall 2020 semester.
Groups, including the Florida Education Association, the state’s largest teachers’ union, led lawsuits against the state and department over the order forcing schools to reopen to students.
The News Service of Florida contributed to this post. Republished with permission.