Florida teachers union, medical groups want schools closed for the semester

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Florida's teachers union called on Gov. Ron DeSantis on Tuesday to keep campuses closed through the end of the school year, saying the coronavirus outbreak “presents a threat we cannot control.”

Fedrick Ingram, president of the Florida Education Association, said in a letter to the governor that teachers have “risen to the challenge” of conducting their classes online since campuses closed last month and there is no reason to reopen them until the virus is under control.

“The potential damage that could be done to families and entire communities from an outbreak of COVID-19 at even one school far outweighs the inconvenience of continuing distance learning for the rest of the school year,” Ingram wrote.

DeSantis suggested last week that he was considering reopening schools next month because children have little risk of dying from the disease, drawing criticism that such a move would endanger staff members and parents who are older or have health problems.

“It doesn’t mean that they are going to go back. But I think we just need to get down this road a bit further,” DeSantis said.

Florida has more than 4,500 public schools serving 2.7 million children. They employ 180,000 teachers.

Representatives of four statewide medical organizations joined with the Florida PTA in a letter to Gov. Ron DeSantis asking that the state not reopen school campuses next month.

“(We) feel it is illogical to complete a school year in person that is capable of being completed, as has been proven in the last 30 days, virtually via distance learning,” the letter, sent Tuesday, said. “The risk of encouraging a second yet equally dangerous secondary spread of the virus does not outweigh any potential reward of saving one month of school.”

The letter, obtained by News Service of Florida, was also sent to Department of Health Secretary Scott Rivkees and Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran. It was signed by the physician presidents of the Florida Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, the Florida Chapter of the American College of Physicians, the Florida Osteopathic Medical Association and the Florida Academy of Family Physicians.

The Florida Medical Association, the state’s largest physician group, did not sign onto the letter.

DeSantis said at a Tuesday news conference that he is not going to reopen the schools until it can be done safely and any decision will be done in consultation with superintendents and parents. He said schools will be discussed by a task force on reopening the state that he intends to appoint this week.

“It is not just going back to school at the end of May for a couple weeks — we are talking about what the fall semester is going to look like for K-12, what is it going to look like for our universities? What needs to be in place?" DeSantis said.

SaBrina, a parent of a Duval County student, says it’s worth keeping the schools closed.

“I think it’s a wonderful idea. The home school option is a bit of a struggle because we have four children who are enrolled in Duval County Public Schools, but I do feel comfortable that my children are home and knowing that they’re safe and that they’re not being exposed to this virus," she said.

Tallahassee Community College is already telling students and staff that summer classes will be online, but other colleges are waiting to make a decision.

Also Tuesday, DeSantis announced that the federal government has approved 52,000 small business loans totaling $12.5 billion for Florida. He said some Floridians who have lost their jobs have started receiving the $600 weekly federal unemployment supplement.

“Everything is teed up and ready to go,” DeSantis said about the loans. “That is going to be a really important lifeline for Florida's small businesses, which have really been hit hard.”

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