ORLANDO — While Gov. Ron DeSantis is insistent that Florida will reopen its public schools in August, right on schedule, Florida voters are expressed deep misgivings about that idea.
DeSantis has been following the lead of President Trump, who has called for in-classroom learning this fall rather than virtual instructions, despite the fact that Florida has become one of the hardest hit states, with nearly 10,000 new COVID-19 cases each day and close to 100 daily deaths in the past week.
Despite that, DeSantis gave a speech on Wednesday on the Florida Channel urging Floridians, including parents of school age children and teachers and other educators, to remain calm.
“The choice before us is whether we face our challenges with determination and resolve, guided by evidence, or whether we allow ourselves to become paralyzed by fear,” the governor said. “Fear doesn’t help us combat the virus.”
As he spoke, the state noted that a 9-year-old Putnam County girl had become the fifth child to die in the state from coronavirus. And a new Quinnipiac poll indicates the governor has a tough sales job ahead of him.
What Do Floridians Think About Reopening Schools?
Florida typically reopens its schools early, usually by mid-August. But this year, according to the Quinnipiac poll, a wide majority of Floridians oppose the idea. The survey found that by a 62-33% margin, voters think it will be unsafe to send students to elementary, middle and high schools this year, while an additional 57% think it will be unsafe for students to return to college in the fall. Just 37% think doing that would be safe.
Quinnipiac University Polling Analyst Tim Malloy.noted that while DeSantis wants to resume in-person classes in Florida for the start of the school year and President Trump wants to do the same nationwide, Florida voters disapprove of those plans by wide margins.
“DeSantis’ commitment to putting students in classrooms in the fall is a non-starter with voters,” Malloy noted. “From elementary school kids to collegians, Floridians are saying ‘forget it.’ ”
The Quinnipiac poll also noted that 56% of Floridians disapprove of DeSantis’ handling of the reopening of schools, while 37% approve. President Trump’s handling of the reopening of schools gets an even lower grade: 59% disapprove while 36% approve.
How Is the Governor Responding?
So far, the governor hasn’t responded to the polls, although on Thursday, President Trump surprised some by announcing that he was cancelling Republican convention activities that had been scheduled to take place in Jacksonville in late August. Trump had moved the convention — including his acceptance speech — to Jacksonville after the governor of North Carolina imposed social distancing rules on plans to hold the convention in Charlotte.
Now the GOP delegates are heading back to North Carolina for what is expected to be a scaled-down convention, while the GOP is pulling out of Jacksonville altogether. Trump made that announcement right after Quinnipiac released a poll showing Democratic nominee Joe Biden leading Trump in Florida by a 51-38% margin.
And despite the rising COVID-19 caseloads, the governor said he remains optimistic about reopening the schools.
“It is often asked whether it is safe to return kids to school,” DeSantis said. “It should also be asked, how safe is it to keep schools closed?”
In a column publishing in Bloomberg by Joe Nocera, ” I Was Wrong About Florida’s Response To COVID-19,” the author said DeSantis has failed the state in his response to the skyrocketing caseload.
Nocera noted that DeSantis had issued an emergency order that schools in Florida had to reopen five days a week, and noted, ” … in what I now realize is his modus operandi, DeSantis offered nothing besides his order. No sense that he understood the fears of parents or teachers. No offer of state money to help school districts prepare to open safely. No willingness to delay the opening of school to give everyone more time to get ready.
“Teachers are furious, and so are many parents. School boards are protesting. The teacher’s union has sued the state. When I turn on the South Florida call-in shows, I hear angry voters pummeling DeSantis,” wrote Nocera, a noted business journalist.
Michael Freeman is an Orlando journalist, playwright, and author of the book When I Woke Up, You Were All Dead. Contact him at Freelineorlando@gmail.com.