The Center Square – U.S. Department of Labor Secretary Eugene Scalia and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said Thursday schools are as essential to the economy as grocery stores and factories and, as such, they must open in fall.
“We spent months saying there were certain things that were essential, and that included fast food restaurants, it included Walmart, it included Home Depot, but if all that is essential, then educating our kids is absolutely essential,” DeSantis said, adding the state’s K-12 students “have been put to the back of the line in some respects.”
DeSantis said opening schools is supported by science, noting Florida is using the same modeling and practices as those adopted by the European Union in reopening schools.
“All of the European Union countries have come to this conclusion, that the kids aren’t vectors of transmission,” DeSantis said. “So we have to look at the facts, the data, the science, and then we need to be governed by that rather than politics or emotion.”
Scalia, the son of late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia and joined DeSantis Thursday at the Jacksonville news conference, agreed.
“We’re getting back to our ordinary life as best we can, while also contending with a virus, and to me, schools are an essential service,” he said.
Florida Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran on Monday mandated all schools to reopen classrooms in August at least five days a week and offer “the full panoply of services,” including in-person instruction, as a “return to Florida hitting its full economic stride.”
The Florida Education Association, superintendents of the state’s two largest school districts and Democrats question how the state can order schools reopened in weeks when there are more COVID-19 cases now than there were in March when schools were shuttered.
Scalia said reopening schools is important for the nation’s workforce, especially low-income Americans and working women.
“During the economy we had before the virus came, we actually had a lower unemployment rate for women, adult women, than we did for adult men, which was extraordinary,” Scalia said. “Unfortunately, that’s now flipped.”
More than 1.3 million new unemployment claims were filed last week, marking the 16th consecutive week new unemployment claims topped 1 million. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, the record high for weekly unemployment applications was under 700,000.
For the week ending July 4, new jobless claims in Florida fell from 84,370 to 67,070, according to USDOL, and those filing continuing unemployment benefit claims in the state dropped from 741,344 to 648,508.
The Florida Department of Economic Opportunity (DEO) has paid almost 1.66 million unemployment claims, totaling $9.07 billion as of Tuesday, DeSantis’ communications director, Helen Aguirre Ferré, said.
The 1.66 million paid claims represent about two-thirds of the 2.49 million unique claims submitted, according to DEO, which said Florida’s May unemployment rate was 14.5 percent, about 11 percentage points higher than what it was in February.
Scalia and DeSantis maintain with schools closed, many parents must provide child care and education while trying to work from home or being forced to quit their jobs.
“We’ve even got tattoo parlors open and hair salons. We’re ready to open our schools. We know how to safely open our workplaces,” Scalia said. “There are steps that can be taken that will be successful.”
DeSantis said in-person learning is necessary to close the “education gap” and provide opportunities for socialization.
“If you can do Home Depot, if you can do Walmart, if you can do these things, we absolutely can do the schools,” DeSantis said. “In spite of good efforts with the online, it’s just not the same.”