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Gov. DeSantis Discouraging School Closures, Even During COVID-19 Outbreaks

Governor Ron DeSantis held a media conference at the Jacksonville Classical Academy Tuesday to promote the opening of schools and provide a COVID-19 update.
Governor Ron DeSantis held a media conference at the Jacksonville Classical Academy Tuesday to promote the opening of schools and provide a COVID-19 update.

He said schools should not be quarantining healthy students.

As two Jacksonville schools were forced to temporarily switch to online distance learning amid COVID-19 outbreaks, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis said he would like to see schools remain open. 

“If you have some students who have positive tests, obviously you can isolate them, but that really is a better model than to just throw in the towel because you're going to have a lot of students that need that instruction that are just going to be stuck at home for two weeks,” DeSantis said at the Jacksonville Classical Academy Tuesday. 

Duncan Fletcher High School and Douglas Anderson School of the Arts have been closed due to COVID-19 outbreaks. District officials said that Fletcher High School will be closed until at least October 29 as the school reports nearly 40 positive cases, while Douglas Anderson will remain virtual until at least Wednesday.

On Tuesday, at least two COVID-19 cases were confirmed at Providence School of Jacksonville that forced junior and senior students home for the day.

The Duval County School District outlines that schools will be closed when at least 20% of the school community has potentially been impacted. 

DeSantis said he was unaware of the two closures in Jacksonville, and said he didn’t want to speak directly to those situations, but that schools should not be quarantining healthly students. 

“I think we're going to work on, I think, a way that can be a little bit more surgical, but I think it's been a problem,” DeSantis said.

DCPS Chief of Communications Tracy Pierce said the current measures the district is using to identify potential COVID-19 outbreaks have been effective. 

“We do use a surgical approach when identifying those students who need to quarantine,” Pierce said. “We have seating charts for classrooms and seating charts for buses so that we're able to work with the Department of Health to identify only those students who've actually had close contact with the infected individual.”

“The basis of what we do is rooted in the guidance that we received from the medical community over the summer, the guidance that currently exists on the CDC website,” Pierce said. 

DeSantis said overall, the state is not going to recommend school closures. 

“It's not proven to be something that has been effective,” DeSantis said. 

DeSantis and State Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran spent the first portion of the conference speaking about how important school reopenings are, and how successful the state has been in safely reopening campuses in all 67 Florida counties. 

“The evidence was abundantly clear then, and it's obviously even more clear now that schools are not drivers of spreading coronavirus, and schools need to be open. It is a bad public health policy to have schools closed,” DeSantis said.

DeSantis also commended the state for allowing fall high school athletics to take place, which he said “would not have happened without the state’s backing.”

Across Northeast Florida, multiple schools have had to push back or cancel football games due to potential COVID-19 outbreaks. 

In early September, St. Johns Country Day School announced it was canceling it’s football season due to COVID-19, before joining an eight-man football league, which includes Duval Charter and Harvest Community. 

DeSantis once again claimed that students weren’t primary vectors for spreading COVID-19, making it safer for them to be in school. 

He also slammed the Florida Education Association’s failed attempt to sue the state for reopening schools. 

“They've gotten totally dismissed out of hand, those bogus claims. But their goal was to keep kids out of school and they were wrong,” DeSantis said. 

Corcoran commended DeSantis’ work in reopening schools in August.

“There's 50 governors in this great country, only one governor went through all the forensics, all the analysis, I always tell people all the time we were and we are not the guinea pigs, we are the smart ones who looked at what was going around around the world,” Corcoran said. 

Corcoran said having schools closed is “permanently scarring the hopes and dreams of a generation of children. 

According to the DCPS school dashboard, more than 85 schools in the district have reported at least one case of COVID-19 from either students or staff members.  

Sky Lebron can be reached at slebron@wjct.org, 904-358-6319 or on Twitter at @SkylerLebron.

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