Why Florida schools should remain closed this year | Editorial
The potential benefit for just a few weeks is not worth the health risk.
A Brandon High School faculty member directs traffic for parents that are waiting in line to pick up school breakfast and lunches Wednesday in Brandon. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)
A Brandon High School faculty member directs traffic for parents that are waiting in line to pick up school breakfast and lunches Wednesday in Brandon. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara) [ CHRIS O'MEARA | AP ]
This article represents the opinion of the Tampa Bay Times Editorial Board.
Published April 17, 2020

It’s time Gov. Ron DeSantis and Florida Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran acknowledge the obvious and move to keep the state’s public schools closed for the rest of the academic year. There is every reason to give parents some clarity and no reason to keep debating this issue when it is clear social distancing and other life changes will continue long past the scheduled end of classes. It’s better to continue to concentrate on virtual learning for now and start focusing on a variety of options for the fall as the battle to contain the coronavirus continues to unfold.

DeSantis raised a valid point this week when he suggested parents would prefer for the schools to reopen this year even for a few short weeks if they were convinced it could be safely done. Closing the schools has put a tremendous strain on many families as parents juggle working from home or coping with their job losses while helping their children deal with the challenges of virtual learning. But there is no indication now that schools could be safely reopened next month, and the potential gain in some sense of normalcy would not be worth the health risk.

The governor and the education commissioner have their issues with the teachers’ union. As House speaker, Corcoran once called the union "downright evil'' for opposing using public money for private tuition vouchers. But in this case they should listen to the union, whose president wrote to DeSantis this week and warned that opening the schools prematurely ''will threaten the safety and well-being of all on campus.”

If DeSantis and Corcoran don’t want to listen to the teachers’ union, they should listen to the district superintendents expressing the same view. Miami-Dade school superintendent Alberto Carvalho tweeted that “a physical return to schools this year is not only unlikely but imprudent.” Pasco superintendent Kurt Browning warned that the worst outcome would be to try to create some sense of normalcy by reopening the schools only to have that decision help trigger a new surge in coronavirus cases. The district superintendents know best about what it would take to reopen schools, the concerns of school board members and the anxiousness in their communities.

How many families would be willing to send their children back to school with social distancing guidelines still in effect? How many teachers and staff members would decide they did not want to risk their health or the health of their families to return to work? How would school districts cope with serving both families whose students returned to the classroom and families whose students wanted to keep learning from home with virtual classes?

At least two dozen states already have decided to keep schools closed for the rest of the academic year, and Florida should do the same. While the desire for students to return to classrooms, reconnect with teachers and friends and enjoy end-of-the-year rituals is understandable, those benefits are not worth the considerable risks. Keep virtual learning strong, and start planning on options for the new school year.

Editorials are the institutional voice of the Tampa Bay Times. The members of the Editorial Board are Times Chairman and CEO Paul Tash, Editor of Editorials Tim Nickens, and editorial writers Elizabeth Djinis, John Hill and Jim Verhulst. Follow @TBTimes_Opinion on Twitter for more opinion news