DeSantis on reopening schools: ‘Nothing’s risk-free in life’

Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks at an education roundtable in Hillsborough County. (Copyright 2020 by WJXT News4Jax - All rights reserved.)

RIVERVIEW, Fla. – As students in Florida trickled back into schools on Monday, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis was at a charter school in Hillsborough County to praise its reopening plan.

The education roundtable press event held at Winthrop College Prep Academy took place at the same time that DeSantis and Florida Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran are at odds with the Hillsborough County School District, led by former Clay County Superintendent Addison Davis, about how to reopen schools.

Last week, the Hillsborough School Board reversed its vote and decided all school will be virtual for the first month of the school year, the Tampa Bay Times reported. Corcoran said that the district does not meet the requirements of the state mandate to offer in-classroom instruction when school resumes, Bay News 9 reported.

“The Hillsborough County School Board needs to follow the law, it’s that simple,” he said in a prepared statement.

Corcoran said Hillsborough is the only school district in the state that is not planning to offer at least some form of in-person learning to start the year.

“Every other district is doing exactly what they were sort of given the flexibility to do, and they’re doing it with great fanfare,” he said Monday.

During a roundtable meeting at a public charter school in Riverview, DeSantis and Corcoran both reiterated their positions that the risk of contracting COVID-19 among students remains low and schools need to reopen this fall to give parents education options.

“Nothing’s risk-free in life,” DeSantis said. “There’s nothing we can do that’s going to be zero. But the risks are, what I would say low for the students, the risk of the schools being real drivers of the epidemic, certainly that’s not been validated in the observed experience up to this point. So in that sense, you take that and then you have to look, what are the costs of not offering in-person, and then make that judgment.”

Meanwhile, doctors across the state are urging school leaders to keep schools closed.

Monday is first day of school for students in two Northeast Florida and two Southeast Georgia counties.

Students in Baker, Bradford, Charlton and Pierce counties will either return to campus or start their selected online option.

Most of the larger school districts in the area pushed back school start dates for a week or more due to a rise in COVID-19 cases and deaths. But a handful voted to keep their original school start date or delay it until Monday.

Each reopening plan looks a little different.

DeSantis said Monday he has always pushed for options.

“You have parents out there in Florida that would beat down the schoolhouse door to get their kids in because they think they really need to be back in, and then you have some others who, you know, maybe they just want to see how it develops, maybe they think it’ll probably be okay but they want to see how the schools are handling it, make sure they’re doing that, the protocols that you guys are doing, and then maybe there’s some parents who just say you know what, I think we need to take some time and that’s fine. All of those views and all those parents have the ability to act on that accordingly,” DeSantis said.

In terms of the risk to students, COVID-19 poses less of a threat than seasonal influenza in terms of their ability to spread it, DeSantis said.

DeSantis referenced a study of 100 institutions in the United Kingdom, conducted by a scientist who backs reopening, that found little evidence coronavirus transmitted in schools.

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