CLEARWATER, Fla. – Florida Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran said Wednesday he plans to send all six of his children back to brick-and-mortar public schools this fall.
Corcoran has received criticism from parents and teachers across the state for his decision to issue an emergency order asking that all schools reopen five days a week so parents have the option to send children back to campuses, even as COVID-19 cases continue to rise. The state’s largest teacher and education worker union sued Corcoran over the order last week.
“I have six children, all of them are in public school. All of my children will be going back to school in the fall,” Corcoran said during a round-table event at a special education school in Clearwater.
But, Corcoran added, his children will also take special precautions to protect relatives who live nearby.
“I also have a mother-in-law and a brother-in-law who live right behind us, and both are in very vulnerable situations,” Corcoran said. “My mother-in-law, obviously, is elderly, and my brother-in-law is an adult with unique abilities. It’s hard for all of us, but, you know, I’ve balanced both with the kids. They’re fine. I think they’re going to be great going back to school, but I also tell them, ‘I don’t want you going over to Honey and Uncle Josh’s because that’s not safe for them.‘”
Gov. Ron DeSantis, who joined Corcoran at the roundtable event at Paul B. Stephens Exceptional Student Education Center, said his children are not school age but added that he would have no problem sending his children to school.
“Because I do think that it’s safe to do, so I believe that this is something that’s very low risk for kids,” he said.
The science of how COVID-19 affects children is unclear, as several studies suggest, but don’t prove, that children are less likely to become infected than adults and more likely to have only mild symptoms.
Data showed this week that the number of new COVID-19 cases in children, along with hospitalizations, has increased across the state with a 34% increase in cases and a 23% increase in hospitalizations over an eight-day period.
Parents and teachers at the small Clearwater special education school joined DeSantis and Corcoran to share stories about why they feel that it is important to reopen schools for face-to-face instruction. DeSantis and Corcoran said being in classrooms is better for students’ mental health and for parents who have to go back to work.
“So we do believe fundamentally in providing parents with the choice, and that choice can be to continue with distance learning or choose to go back into the classroom where your students can get face-to-face instruction,” DeSantis said.
DeSantis said he doesn’t think there will be a school district in the state that will move to virtual distance learning for the entire first semester. Some school leaders have said they fear losing out on state funding if they don’t follow Corcoran’s order.
The school district in Duval County plans to start the school year with a hybrid virtual option that would not involve sending many students back to school five days a week. That plan has yet to be approved by the state.
Corcoran said he predicts, based on surveys, that about 80% of parents in the state will send students back to school campuses this fall.
As school officials across Florida continue grappling with reopening classrooms amid the COVID-19 pandemic, a major group of pediatricians Wednesday released recommendations aimed at reducing risks to children and teachers.
The Florida Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, in an 11-page white paper sent to DeSantis, pointed to “significant benefits” of children going back to school but also said those benefits have to be weighed against the risks. It said that in many areas of the state, “coronavirus prevalence will not decrease enough in the next 4-6 weeks to make the benefits of school attendance outweigh the risks.”
Florida’s Department of Health reported 217 more deaths from COVID-19 on Wednesday, the most the state has announced in a day since the start of the pandemic.
It was the second day in a row for record deaths in Florida, following 191 deaths reported Tuesday.