On Return To Schools, DeSantis Emphasizes Choice, Gives Districts Flexibility On Start Date - WUSF Public Media | Tampa NPR, Local News Coverage

On Return To Schools, DeSantis Emphasizes Choice, Gives Districts Flexibility On Start Date

Governor Ron DeSantis Ryan Dailey, WFSU File Photo

As school districts in Florida gear up to open brick and mortar campuses in the fall, Governor Ron DeSantis says he’s supporting choice for parents and students.

The state Department of Education’s emergency order calls for in-person instruction to be made available for the coming school year, unless local or state health departments say otherwise. But it also allows districts to get funding for students who opt for distance learning.

During an uncharacteristically short televised address Wednesday, the governor said he wants districts to have flexibility regarding when they start the year.

“For those teachers who may be higher risk or even those who just don’t feel comfortable with in-person instruction – they should be given the option of working remotely. Why force someone to be in the classroom if they’re uncomfortable doing so? Let’s just find a way to make due,” DeSantis said. “And if a school district needs to delay the school year for a few weeks so that everything will be in good shape? Have at it.”

Still, many teachers in Florida have expressed concern about resuming in-person classes – some reporting they’d rather retire or leave the profession than risk contracting COVID-19.

Earlier this week, statewide teachers union the Florida Education Association filed a lawsuit, claiming DOE’s order is unconstitutional.

In the Capital City, some parents have been sounding off on the idea of sending their children back to school in the fall, as COVID-19 cases have seen surges in recent weeks.

Isabel Ruano has a five-year-old son and is a member of local activist group Tallahassee Community Action Committee. She joined a digital rally with the group Wednesday to push the state to give school districts more options. She says she doesn’t want to send her son back to school because she doesn’t think enough has been done to ensure kids will be safe.

“I don’t see how elementary school children can keep social distancing in a school setting the way they are planning to. You can’t have 18 to 20 children in a classroom and expect them to use their masks properly for 7 to 8 hours a day, that is just not realistic,” Ruano said.

Ruano wants the Leon County school board to have the option to not follow the Department of Education’s order requiring schools to offer in-person classes starting in August. She thinks more flexibility will let county officials to come up with the best plan for each community.

Leon school board member Rosanne Wood wants the district to ask for a waiver that would allow local officials to make their own decisions about when it’s safe to return to in-person learning. Ruan says she supports the move.

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