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News about coronavirus in Florida and around the world is constantly emerging. It's hard to stay on top of it all but Health News Florida and WUSF can help. Our responsibility at WUSF News is to keep you informed, and to help discern what’s important for your family as you make what could be life-saving decisions.

Should Florida Schools Reopen In May? Parents And Teachers Say No

A shot of the exterior of Countryside High School in Clearwater.
Carl Lisciandrello/WUSF Public Media
According to responses from teachers and parents, schools across the state should remain closed for the rest of 2019-2020 academic year.

Last week, Gov. Ron DeSantis floated the idea of possibly reopening some public schools in May.

Florida's statewide teachers' union was quick to urge DeSantis to rethink the opening of schools. Florida Education Association President Fedrick Ingram said doing so would "threaten the safety and well-being of all on campus."

WUSF asked parents and teachers what they think should be done in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic.

More than 550 responses were recorded through a Google form, and another 136 people shared their thoughts via a Reddit post.

Nearly 82% of those who responded agreed with Ingram and the teachers' union: Schools should remain closed in May.

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Carolyn Davis Cockey, a parent and childbirth educator, was one of those responses.

"Florida has not yet reached its apex on the curve that's not going to come until early May, according to the University of Washington's modeling," Cockey said. "So it's ridiculous that our governor and others are already suggesting we could potentially reopen schools this year."

She added that since children and young adults can be asymptomatic reopening schools would put everyone from teachers and administrators to lunch workers and guidance counselors at risk for COVID-19.

"I absolutely think it would be irresponsible to try to restart schools, the last say four to six weeks of school, because our teachers have spent a lot of time and energy in our districts pivoting to online education," Cockey said. "I realize this is not ideal for every student, but neither is in-classroom learning always ideal for every student."

Stephanie Martinez, a mother of elementary school-age children, said officials should take a wait-and-see approach.

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"I don't know if right now is the time to make that determination yet," Martinez said. "I think it really should depend on the recommendations from the (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) as to ... when and how we should go back to school.

"And I know we're currently scheduled to stay out through the month of April. So why don't we wait a little bit longer to make those decisions based on what's the current situation at that time?" she said.

Many of the people who thought schools should remain closed shared Cockey's concerns of putting teachers and faculty at risk.

"A couple weeks of socialization and face-to-face schooling may cause a couple more months of where we are now, with safe-at-home orders and social distancing, or worse," Lilia Cagle, a teacher and parent, said in her response. "It could lead to more cases and ultimately more deaths. We're talking thousands of students, teachers and staff returning to an environment that will promote the further spread of this disease."

Tracy-Ann Gilbert-Smith, a teacher, said she's worried about reinfection rates.

"With the (World Health Organization) and the CDC still not having a clear understanding of reinfection after contracting COVID-19, the state not having enough COVID-19 test sites, the high likelihood of continued mask and glove wearing, it's best to not resume schools until the new academic year," she said. "We should not place school administrators, teachers and other school staff in harm's way. If universities are having their summer sessions online, why would we even reopen schools?"

Kate Brassfield said her daughter's life would be threatened if she contracted the disease and worries about other high-risk people who would have to go back to the classroom.

"In addition, children who are well can still bring the virus home to siblings, parents, grandparents and caregivers," she said. "Who will take care of the children if their grown-ups are sick? While concerns about distance learning's effectiveness and kids' need for socialization are real, they don't override the health dangers at this time. Let's err on the safe side for now. Please cancel school for the rest of this school year.”

But some say schools should still reopen.

Many of the roughly 16% who responded yes declined to give a reason, while others shared arguments similar to DeSantis, saying children aren't as at-risk.

Angelique Nelson, a parent, said schools should reopen with cautious measures in place.

Grandparent Patty LaFountaine said her grandchildren are "disoriented and want to go back to school." She added that she thinks "children are not at risk" and "please open up the schools again."

Valentina Arteaga thinks children aren't learning with the online format and are "losing structure and discipline that a school provides."

Some, like Katie Tinley and Kristen Vosseller, believe school adds a sense of normalcy to their children's lives.

"(Four to five) months off interferes with their sleep schedule, eating habits, inhibits possible depression and anything else that can link to this," Vosseller said. "I believe our kids should be able to go back to school."

"They need a sense of normalcy and want closure before the start of summer break," Tinley said. "Knowing they completed their current grade prior to starting a new one would allow them to jump back in with confidence."

Many students responded to the questionnaire as well. They seemed eager to return to in-person classes, but shared concerns about spread of the virus -- leading them to say they were not sure if reopening was a good idea. In addition, many didn't want to miss out on major events, such as prom and graduation ceremonies.

One student cited doing about three times the workload with online classes, compared to in-person. 

Lilia Cagle,a teacher, added she was also experiencing double the workload and doing 12- to 14-hour days.

"I am NOT a fan, but my comfort and ease is not the focal point," Cagle said. "The safety of our society should take priority over everything else."

One high school sophomore said they would love the opportunity to have a "final goodbye" with teachers and classmates who become like "extended family members" throughout the year.

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