TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – During an evening address Wednesday, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis continued his push for students to be given an option of returning to class during the fall semester or continue distance learning from home.
“The evidence that schools can be open in a safe way is overwhelming,” DeSantis said. “Yet I also understand the apprehension that some parents may feel, and I believe in empowering them with a choice. No parent should be required to send their child to in-person instruction if they don’t want to.”
As of Wednesday, the mandate from the state Department of Education stood, which requires all school to reopen for in-person class during the fall. According to the plan, all school boards and charter school governing boards must open brick and mortar schools in August at least five days per week for all students, subject to the advice and orders of the Florida Department of Health.
The governor said he believes that special accommodations must be made for all students with significant health issues who may be more at risk of contracting the virus. He also said he believes teachers should be given the option of working remotely.
“Why force someone to be in the classroom if they’re uncomfortable doing so? Let’s just find a way to make do,” he said.
DeSantis argued that the risk of students catching the virus from in-person learning is low, and that the cost of keeping schools closed are “enormous.”
“You can bet your bottom dollar that keeping schools closed will exacerbate existing achievement gaps between demographic groups, lead to more kids dropping out of school, disproportionately impact the least economically affluent Floridians, foster more social isolation, depression and anxiety, harm students with special needs and deprive students of the ability to engage in sports and extracurricular activities,” he said.
Additionally, DeSantis said that if a school district needed to delay the school year for a few weeks, “have at it.”
The governor’s comments come as Florida added 9,785 new confirmed cases Wednesday, bringing the total since March 1 to nearly 380,000.
Florida recorded more than 100 new coronavirus deaths for the seventh time in two weeks, pushing its death toll from the pandemic to nearly 5,500. The deaths included a 9-year-old girl in Putnam County, who is the youngest patient to die in Florida from complications related to the novel coronavirus.
The state health department reported 138 more deaths on Wednesday, bringing Florida’s weekly average to 118 a day, equal with Texas for the worst current seven-day average in the nation. A month ago, Florida was averaging 33 deaths a day.
The percentage of positive tests has remained at about 18% the last two weeks, quadruple about 4% in June.
The Associated Press contributed to this report