Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis believes closing schools due to a coronavirus outbreak does more damage to students' wellbeing than good.
The governor made the statements Tuesday during a news conference regarding campuses and the virus at a Jacksonville private school.
All Florida schools closed in the spring when the pandemic first arrived in the state but later reopened in August with reduced capacity on campuses as many students opted for virtual learning. With Broward and Miami-Dade school district back open to in-person learning now, all Florida school districts are open to students.
The Miami-Dade School District entered its third week of in-person learning with 90 cases of the virus in students and or staff, according to the districts dashboard.
On Friday, the dashboard reported 29 staff members and 19 students had tested positive for the coronavirus since students returned to face-to-face learning the week of Oct. 5. By Tuesday morning the numbers had climbed to 54 employees and 36 students.
Since school began this fall, campuses and individual classrooms at many schools all over the state have temporarily closed due to cases of the virus. However, DeSantis said that should no longer be an option.
“I think we can say this, going forward ... school closures should be off the table. They don’t do anything to mitigate COVID but they do cause catastrophic damage to the physical, mental and social wellbeing of our youth. Let’s not repeat any mistakes of the past,” DeSantis said.
The governor repeated multiple times during the event that student “physical, mental and social wellbeing” is best supported through in-person learning. He has previously said he regrets closing schools in the spring when COVID-19 was first reported in Florida.
“The evidence was abundantly clear then, and it’s obviously even more clear now that schools are not drivers of spreading coronavirus, and schools need to be open,” DeSantis said.
Florida Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran and DeSantis have been saying for months that the respiratory illness poses “no risk” to school children. While medical professionals agree the virus is less deadly to children, they can still spread COVID-19 to elderly and those with preexisting conditions for whom the virus could have devastating results.
“It’s overwhelmingly clear that not having these kids interacting in schools is just overwhelmingly (worse) and it’s an absolute risk,” Corcoran said. “When it comes to these schools children is virtually de minimis or no risk and we’re seeing that from the reopening.”
School districts are still waiting on guidance from Corcoran and the Department of Education for what next semester will look like for students. According to Orange County Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Barbara Jenkins, that is expected to come in November.