ORLANDO, Fla. – Florida students won’t return to school for the rest of the academic year due to the coronavirus pandemic, according to Gov. Ron DeSantis.
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The governor announced the decision to keep K-12 schools closed for the remainder of the year during a news conference Saturday afternoon.
Today, @GovRonDeSantis and Commissioner of Education @richardcorcoran recommended that all Florida public and private K-12 schools continue distance learning and keep school campuses closed through the remainder of the 2019-2020 academic year. #FLedu #COVID19 #distancelearning pic.twitter.com/GShs93foSs— Florida Department of Education (@EducationFL) April 18, 2020
DeSantis said he realizes online schooling is not ideal but given where students and educators are in the school year and the obstacles presented by the ongoing pandemic, he believes continuing distance learning is the best option right now.
The governor also said he got mixed feedback from parents about the idea of their children returning to school in May. Since many Florida families have already adjusted to distance learning in the last few weeks, DeSantis said it didn’t seem there would be a huge benefit to sending students back to school only to be let out for the summer in a few more weeks.
“The last thing you want to do is force everyone in school and have half the kids show up because their parents didn’t want -- their teachers didn’t want,” DeSantis said. “It was an easier decision for me to make knowing distance learning is working.”
DeSantis mentioned earlier this month and again on Saturday that he was concerned about keeping students out of school long term because of the effects it could have on their mental health.
“I’m sensitive -- a lot of our kids haven’t seen friends in awhile. This has a social cost to it and I want to figure out a way to overcome that. (In) the next phase, kids will have more to be able to do,” DeSantis said.
Prior to the announcement, all schools were closed through the rest of April.
Earlier this month, some school districts announced backup plans for 2020 graduation ceremonies, including potential dates into July. It’s unclear whether those dates will be reconsidered with the extended school closures.
Also on Saturday, DeSantis said he plans to announce on Monday the members of a task force who will be responsible for developing a three-phase approach to reopening the state. They will meet by telephone for the first time next week, the governor said.
The governor’s announcements came two days after President Donald Trump released his three-phase plan for opening businesses back up across the country.
In order to begin the process, a region must first experience 14 continuous days of declining instances of COVID-19. Then phase one, which includes reopening gyms and restaurants while still maintaining social distance, can begin. Those who are most at risk of contracting the deadly respiratory illness would need to remain at home. Schools would also remain closed and visits to hospitals and assisted living facilities would remain suspended.
If the area doesn’t see another increase in cases, it can move on to phase two. That involves easing social restriction guidelines to no groups larger than 50 instead of the current 10. Employees should still telecommute, if possible, but schools, camps and bars could reopen.
Phase three is what most would likely call the new normal. Employees could return to the office, at-risk individuals could venture out more and large venues could operate with some minor stipulations.
The president has asked governors and other local leaders to take charge of implementing that approach rather than issuing a nationwide response that wouldn’t take into consideration the varying degree of COVID-19 instances across the country.
At last check, there were more than 25,000 Florida-related cases of COVID-19 and 740 coronavirus-related deaths reported statewide.