Gov. Ron DeSantis on Wednesday urged Floridians to remain calm as the state prepares to reopen schools in August amid a pandemic that has shown no signs of waning.
“The choice before us is whether we face our challenges with determination and resolve, guided by evidence, or whether we allow ourselves to become paralyzed by fear,” he said in a speech aired on the Florida Channel that was billed as an address to Floridians. “Fear doesn’t help us combat the virus.”
DeSantis spoke from Tallahassee for about six minutes during a week that saw COVID-19 cases increase rapidly, with an average of 119 deaths per day. A 9-year-old girl from Putnam County was listed among the updated death count Wednesday, the fifth child to die in the state.
“I am here to tell you that things will get better when it comes to the coronavirus,” DeSantis said, cautioning Floridians not to make a false choice between safety and the resumption of normal routines.
As hundreds in the Tampa Bay area are testing positive every day, school districts are working to create back-to-school plans that call for face coverings on students, social distancing where possible, and frequent cleaning of schools and buses. But they have received opposition from teacher groups and many parents, who say conditions are not yet safe enough for in-person instruction.
The state has directed districts to open their buildings by the end of August, and many are also offering virtual instruction as an alternative.
“It is often asked whether it is safe to return kids to school,” DeSantis said. “It should also be asked, how safe is it to keep schools closed?”
State leaders, sometimes citing the economic imperative to free parents up to work, say families must have the option to send their children to physical schools it they choose. They have also made the case that if schools do not open, students will fall behind academically and suffer socially.
“Our fight against COVID shouldn’t lead us to deprive our kids of the tools they need to succeed,” DeSantis said Wednesday. “The important thing to do is make sure our parents have a meaningful choice.”
DeSantis acknowledged that some teachers are more vulnerable to the disease because of medical conditions, or just might not feel comfortable in the classroom. “They should be given the option of working remotely,” he said. “Let’s just find a way to make do.”
But school district leaders do not know if the requests from teachers to work remotely will match up to student needs.
DeSantis also said that if a district wants to start school a few weeks late, “have at it.” He did not provide specifics, and he did not take questions after his talk. Representatives from the governor’s office were not available to provide clarification.
Addison Davis, superintendent of the Hillsborough County Schools, said he does not know of any change in state policy that would allow for a September opening.
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