ORLANDO — The decision by Gov. Ron DeSants to order the reopening of Florida’s schools in August, even as the state’s COVID-19 caseloads is rising, is coming under plenty of criticism, most recently from the League of Women Voters of Florida, which issued a statement saying it would be misguided if the state doesn’t first implement safe protocols for schools.
“It is imperative that all means of social distancing and safety measures are considered,” the League noted in a news statement. “It is also important to note that school districts should plan for continuity of learning in the case of absenteeism/sick leave due to additional school closures that could arise due to continued complications caused by COVID-19.”
But that hasn’t stopped Florida from moving forward with plans to get its students back into classrooms by Aug. 24, the traditional time when Florida’s schools reopen.
On Tuesday, when the state reported 7,300 new coronavirus cases, Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran noted that all schools in the Sunshine State were moving ahead with reopening plans, and that “all school boards and charter school governing boards must open brick and mortar schools at least five days per week for all students.”
The executive order also states that schools need to “provide the full array of services that are required by law so that families who wish to educate their children in a brick and mortar school full time have the opportunity to do so.”
Why Is Florida Moving to Reopen Schools in August?
Florida is among four states — along with Arizona, California and Texas — that are experiencing the biggest spikes in new COVID-19 cases. Florida also has the third-highest number of coronavirus cases in the nation — 206,000, and that number is rising.
Despite that, DeSantis said he does not support another lockdown, or switching to virtual learning.
“There’s not going to be a substitute for that in-person instruction,” DeSantis said at a press conference.
DeSantis is also following the example set by President Donald Trump, who has said he wants all schools in the country to reopen for the fall semester. Trump even sent out a tweet on Wednesday threatening to cut off federal funding to schools that don’t reopen “before the November election” is held. The tweet read:
“In Germany, Denmark, Norway, Sweden and many other countries, SCHOOLS ARE OPEN WITH NO PROBLEMS. The Dems think it would be bad for them politically if U.S. schools open before the November Election, but is important for the children & families. May cut off funding if not open!”
But these calls are not going unchallenged.
What Do Teachers Think About Schools Reopening?
The Orange County Teachers Association, which represents more than 215,000 students, issued a statement warning that “The Governor and Secretary are pushing a political and economic agenda over the safety and well-being of students, teachers and school employees. While we know that face-to-face learning is optimal, CTA will not support a reopening plan that could expose students, teachers or their families to illness, hospitalization or death.”
Many have turned to social media to lambast the governor’s decision, with the new hashtag #DeSantisLiesFloridiansDie featuring prominently on Twitter, along with the hashtag #DeSantisBetrayedFlorida.
The League Of Women Voters cautioned that decisions on school reopenings should be made at the local or county rather than state level.
“School openings should be based upon medical experts and locally-driven decisions that meet the specific needs of each district,” the League noted. “Home rule is crucial in this instance where COVID-19 is greatly affecting areas of our state while other areas remain less impacted. Policymakers within local school districts must be the ones to call the shots regarding school reopening.”
It’s the local school officials, the League noted, who understand best what the situation is within their community concerning the coronavirus pandemic.
“These policymakers must be aware of all equivocal evidence surrounding COVID-19 when making these decisions. The state should forgo forcing its hand too heavily in this matter,” the League noted.
As alternatives to reopening classrooms, the League recommends use of online/e-learning strategies, assigning reading for home study, and podcast broadcasts of regular classroom content.
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.