In just seven minutes, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis made a statement on July 22nd that ranged from empathy for teachers concerned about reentering the classroom to the high cost of keeping schools closed.
“Floridians have been asked to do a lot to fight the virus,” DeSantis said. “As the prevalence of the virus has increased, so has fear and apprehension.”
DeSantis said Floridians have a choice to make. They can face “our challenges with determination and resolve guided by evidence,” he said. Or “allow ourselves to become paralyzed by fear.”
“Fear makes things worse and knocks society to its knees.”
DeSantis reiterated that the battle against COVID-19 involves remaining “laser focused on protecting the most vulnerable” while making sure the state still functions.
He said the pandemic is not political and that, “Things will get better when it comes to the coronavirus.”
He attributed his confidence that things will improve based on the population taking great efforts to protect themselves, loved ones, employees, colleagues, friends and neighbors.
“You followed state guidelines,” he said about mitigation efforts to distance, practice good hygiene and by wearing face coverings.
DeSantis, who has three young children, said that kids are the least at risk from COVID-19, a much lower risk than they are from seasonal influenza, and they play the smallest role in spreading it.
Then he asked, how safe is it to keep schools closed?
“You can bet your bottom dollar that keeping schools closed will exacerbate existing achievement gaps between demographic groups, lead to more kids dropping out of school, disproportionately impact the least economically affluent Floridians, foster more social isolation, depression and anxiety.”
He also stressed that keeping schools closed could harm students with special needs and deprive students of the ability to engage in sports and extracurricular activities.
“While the risks to students of in-person learning are low, the cost of keeping schools closed are enormous,” he said and stressed that when schools were closed in March, the adaptation to distance learning was meant to be a “stop gap tool.”
“It’s a far cry from in-person learning and it placed a huge burden on our parents,” he said about distance learning.
DeSantis said that since daycare facilities remained open during the pandemic and did not spread the virus, the risk is low for young children to go back to school. But he also acknowledged that parents and teachers have a right to feel safe going back to the classroom.
“We owe every parent the choice,” he said about sending students to school or maintaining distance learning.
“No parent should be required to send their child to in-person instruction if they don’t want to.”
DeSantis said teachers are, “chomping at the bit to get back into the classroom,” and added that since businesses dealing with the public have found a way to keep their employees safe, there ought to be a way to keep teachers safe as well.
“We support you and we want you to be safe,” he said about teachers and said teachers who may be at higher risk or for those who feel uncomfortable with in-person instruction, they “should be given the option to work remotely.
“Why force someone to work in the classroom if they’re uncomfortable doing so,” he said. “Let’s just find a way to make do.”
He also said not every school district might be ready to open on a certain date.
“If a school district needs to delay the school year for a few weeks so that everything will be in good shape,” he said. “Have at it.
“The important thing is that the parents have a meaningful choice when it comes to in-person education.”
DeSantis then said that students are the future of Florida and that every generation has made sacrifices so that the next generation would have the ability to thrive.
“We cannot be the generation that deprives you of the opportunity to live up to your God given potential,” he said and added that the best way to fight the virus is by having a healthy functioning society.
“And that especially includes our schools,” he said. “Let’s not let fear get the best of us and harm our children in the process.”