‘Parental choice works:’ Florida governor, White House task force doctor tout reopening schools

Medical professionals, education leaders echo similar statements

Florida education leaders joined the governor and medical professionals Monday to reinforce the state’s stance on reopening schools and allowing in-person learning during the coronavirus pandemic.

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Florida education leaders joined the governor and medical professionals Monday to reinforce the state’s stance on reopening schools and allowing in-person learning during the coronavirus pandemic.

“I think the evidence is very clear from around the world about the role that (the coronavirus) plays you know, with young people both in primary, secondary (schools) but colleges as well,” Gov. Ron DeSantis said, once again pointing to trends showing children don’t typically contract COVID-19.

DeSantis has held firm that schools are safe to reopen, a viewpoint he took to action when issuing an emergency order with Florida Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran requiring campuses to reopen for in-person learning.

The Florida Education Association, among other organizations, challenged the order in a lawsuit, a judge ruling the state mandate to reopen schools was unconstitutional and said the choice should be left to local school districts. The state has since appealed the judge’s ruling.

Though the governor did not address the recent legal battle over reopening schools, he did, however, say giving parents the power on how they want their child to learn gives families more control of their student’s future. He said with the different virtual options and enhanced safety measures, students have been set up to succeed even when learning through the coronavirus pandemic. The key to keep all students safe though is to monitor their health, he said.

“If you’re sick then stay home and the good news about all the stuff we’ve done in virtual is that if a parent, you know, has a child who’s under the weather, they can stay home. Do the virtual, and really not fall far behind,” DeSantis said about the enhanced virtual opportunities available to students. “We used to not really have that option now a lot of these schools, you’re going to be able to just dial it up and have it there for you and you’re not going to necessarily have this huge gap that would develop over the period of illness.”

When addressing college and universities reopening across the state, Dr. Scott Atlas, a new adviser on the White House’s coronavirus task force, said it is safer to have college students among each other than in the overall community. Atlas was making at least three stops with DeSantis around the state Monday, including in Tampa and The Villages.

“We’re talking about 99.8% of deaths are in people over 24. So the student population is extremely low risk as well as staff of colleges are really low risk. Only 13% of college faculty are over 65, so it’s not a high-risk group,” Atlas said. “College students need to stay in their low-risk environment and when they’re sick they should isolate. It’s sort of a common sense strategy.”

Atlas pointed to the most recent update from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, that focuses on testing people for COVID-19 for the sake of protecting the vulnerable. Atlas said as schools continue to reopen, it’s important to remember that testing can only do so much compared to preventative measures, especially when dealing with a virus that has largely asymptomatic patients.

“Asymptomatic spread is not the driver of a pandemic -- it never was,” the doctor said.

Atlast said people are more likely to contract COVID-19 from those they live with, saying infection often stems from the home. He said it’s also more common for adults to spread it to children, saying though the reverse can happen it is not typical.

“If you have a cough you’re three times as likely to spread than if you don’t have a cough,” he said.

Though he recognized that asymptomatic spread is possible, he continued to restate how it isn’t likely.

“We have the data, there’s extraordinarily low risk in children, there’s extraordinarily very low risk in everybody else in the school. And when there are high-risk people, we must protect them. But we don’t lock down the schools,” he said. “The goal of policy is absolutely not to stop all spread of COVID-19 to asymptomatic or very low-risk individuals. That’s not the goal. The goal is to protect the vulnerable and we’re doing that, better and better.”

Atlas, along with Florida Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran, repeatedly said during a news conference in The Villages later on Monday the risks to a K-12 student’s education is much greater than the risks of the virus, especially for lower income families.

“When you close schools to in person learning, it is enormously destructive, not just the fact that length that reading skills go down 30% math skills go down 50%,” Atlas said. “Distance learning alone is a failure. Okay, so it’s not it’s not the same thing. By the way for people who are lower income and middle income. This is a huge problem for those families.”

Corcoran said so far, with 1.1 million K-12 students on campus in August only one school has had to close because of COVID-19 infections. He was referring to Harmony Middle School in Osceola County where 10 teachers tested positive.