DeSantis: School reopening decisions shouldn’t be based on fear

"We can figure out how to get this done,” DeSantis said.

Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks at a news conference in Apopka on July 17, 2020. (WPLG)

APOPKA, Fla. – Gov. Ron DeSantis reiterated his belief Friday that Florida schools should reopen five-days a week for parents who want to send students back to campuses this fall and urged decision-makers not to be “swept up in fear.”

“I think most of these folks in the schools, the teachers, I think most of them want to be there because they realize how important it is,” DeSantis said during a press conference. “Safety is important, but we also need to really look at the data and let the facts drive it. I do not think that we should be swept up in fear. I think there’s a lot of fear out there.”

DeSantis’ comments came as school districts across the state try to figure out when and how to resume classes. Some school districts, including those in Duval, St. Johns and Clay counties, are looking at pushing back school start dates as the number of new COVID-19 cases and virus-related deaths continue to climb.

“I think we just look at the situation, we can figure out how to get this done,” DeSantis said. “I’m confident of that.”

A pediatrician at UF Health Jacksonville who is also the former director of the Duval County Health Department sent an open letter Friday about his concern that potential impact reopening schools too soon could have on children and parents.

“There will be spread of disease secondary to the school opening. Some children will be infected and hospitalized. Increased numbers of adults will follow the same path. Deaths will most likely occur due to school reopening,” Dr. Jeffrey Goldhagen wrote. “We only have one chance to get this right.”

Goldhagen, who said he wrote the letter independent of his position with UF Health, is urging school districts to delay opening “until all public health systems are in place and then moving to a hybrid model that evolves to a fully opened system, is a viable approach.”

Duval County Public Schools spokeswoman Tracy Pierce sent News4Jax a response saying the American Academy of Pediatrics has different guidance for schools than what Goldhagen suggests.

About 21% of the 323,002 reported COVID-19 infections are people under the age of 25, with 5% being under 15 years old, according to the Florida Department of Health. Out of the 4,805 COVID-19-related deaths reported in Florida, 14 were people under the age of 25, according to state data released Friday. Some have noted that much of the COVID-19 data reported by the state so far has been collected while schools were closed, either for the summer or in favor of distance learning early in the outbreak.

Duval County teachers who spoke out at a school board meeting on Thursday said they were worried about potential health risks to themselves, students and loved ones if schools were reopened in August.

“I do not want to attend a funeral for my student who dies from COVID-19,” said teacher Sherri Johnson.

DeSantis said that if district leaders in the state decide not to reopen five days a week, they will not be penalized. Duval County is exploring starting the school year with some, or all, Jacksonville students on its distance learning platform.

The governor also said that parents can always opt for distance learning if the district has it available if they don’t feel comfortable sending students back to school.

“I think it’d be so counterproductive to tell them you have to go in,” he said. “I mean, it wouldn’t even work it’s not the right thing to do. They have the ability to opt but I also think we do have to be sensitive to parents, who really believe that the school experience is important for their kids. And so we’ve got to do whatever we can to kind of meet that.”

About the Author:

Digital reporter who has lived in Jacksonville for more than 25 years and focuses on important local issues like education and the environment.