DeSantis’ administration instructed schools not to close just because a student shows symptoms, without first calling state officials to discuss it.
As the Florida Department of Health (DOH) reports 46,566 confirmed cases of children who tested positive for COVID-19 in the state as of August 19, and teachers across the country call in sick because they feel schools aren’t safe for them or their students, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis remains relentless in his quest to open schools—or keep them open for in-person teaching—even when cases of the disease are diagnosed.
In fact, despite the coronavirus pandemic sweeping the state, and dire warnings from public-health experts, DeSantis and his administration told schools not to close a campus without first calling state officials to discuss it.
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Richard Corcoran, the state’s Education Commissioner, told school district superintendents during a call last week that there is no reason to “automatically” close a school just because a student shows symptoms of COVID-19 but has not been diagnosed, reported The Washington Post.
The goal, according to Corcoran, is to keep “everybody safe” while allowing students to “get the best possible learning experience.” Parents are allowed to opt-out, and districts are offering virtual learning models to accommodate them.
But this directive, said a district leader, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, would make some district leaders reluctant to shut down a school.
A Disaster in the Making?
Back in July, the Florida Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics (FCAAP), which represents 2,600 pediatricians in the state, sent a letter to Gov. DeSantis, urging him to reconsider his stance on this issue. In the letter, which at the time DeSantis claimed not to have read, Florida Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics (FCAAP) President D. Paul Robinson alerted the governor and Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran that “if children go to school with such high infection rates, schools will be forced to close very quickly after opening, and many children and families will likely become ill with SARS-CoV-2.”
Proving the warning correct, since in-person teaching resumed in Martin County last week, two high schools and three elementary schools have quarantined close to three hundred students and 16 employees, according to district spokeswoman Jennifer DeShazo.
In fact, according to the DOH after posting single digit daily positivity rates between Aug. 11 and Aug. 15, the county’s daily rate jumped to 12.2 percent on August 17. This is the same county where DeSantis famously compared the reopening of schools to how “the SEALs surmounted obstacles to bring Osama bin Laden to justice.”
Other areas of the Sunshine state have not been as forthcoming in revealing the number of students or staff affected by the pandemic, reports to USA Today. Claiming that it is not appropriate to disclose sensitive medical information, school officials in Naples aren’t disclosing how many coronavirus cases are appearing in public schools that have opened.
In the Courts
After Corcoran’s July 6 emergency order requiring schools outside of South Florida to reopen five days a week in August, and DeSantis’ demand that schools open by Aug. 31 or risk losing state funding, the Florida Education Association called on the governor, state legislators, and the Board of Education to remove the requirement.
On Wednesday teachers and doctors debated the state mandate requiring schools to resume in-person instruction amid the coronavirus pandemic. The Leon County judge said he would review the case over the weekend.
“I don’t think I can just make an off-the-cuff decision of this magnitude without going over all the evidence,” Circuit Judge Charles Dodson said.
Meanwhile, Florida Education Association President Fedrick Ingram said during the daylong video hearing from Tallahassee that teachers and other school staff are opting to quit or retire early and lose benefits because of their fear of contracting COVID-19.