Florida will be reopening schools in August despite the recent surge of coronavirus cases in the state.
On Monday, the state's Commissioner of the Department of Education, Richard Corcoran, issued an executive order requiring all schools to open for "at least" five days a week this fall.
"Upon reopening in August, all school boards and charter school governing boards must open brick and mortar schools at least five days per week for all students," the order states. "School districts and charter school governing boards must provide the full array of services that are required by law so that families who wish to educate their children in a brick and mortar school full time have the opportunity to do so."
School districts will be required to submit a reopening plan consistent with safety guidelines defined by the Department of Health for approval by the Department of Education.
Under the order parents can elect to keep their children at home, so school boards and charter schools will also be required to offer virtual learning for those students.
Florida's announcement came the same day President Donald Trump tweeted, "SCHOOLS MUST OPEN IN THE FALL!!!" which Corcoran retweeted late Monday after announcing the emergency order.
Trump's education secretary, Betsy DeVos, backed the statement as well, adding "Absolutely right, @POTUS! Learning must continue for all students. American education must be fully open and fully operational this fall!" Corcoran also retweeted DeVos' statement.
In a later tweet, Trump accused anyone hesitating to reopen school as being politically motivated in their decision.
"Corrupt Joe Biden and the Democrats don’t want to open schools in the Fall for political reasons, not for health reasons! They think it will help them in November. Wrong, the people get it!" the president added.
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During a press call on Tuesday morning, senior Trump administration officials answered questions regarding Florida's mandatory reopening, stating that they are confident state and local leaders will do what is best for their communities.
"Honestly, these are state and local decisions at the end of the day, and we have confidence that state and local leaders across the country are taking these decisions very seriously and leveraging best practices that they’ve identified," the official told reporters. "The outside groups that have looked at this issue have had recommendations out for a while as well, including the American Academy of Pediatrics. And so we have confidence that the state and local leaders are looking out for those best practices and leveraging those as they make these decisions moving forward."
"We stay in very close contact with state and local leaders on a variety of COVID response and reopening activities, including — the Vice President was briefly down in Florida as well," the official added. "We stay in close contact with Governor DeSantis and his team, and we look forward to doing that with state and local leaders of various political stripes moving forward."
The American Academy of Pediatrics recently released a set of guidelines for schools encouraging physical reopening for the upcoming school year.
"As pediatricians, many of us have recognized already the impact that having schools closed even for a couple months had on children. At the same time, a lot of us are parents. We experienced our own kids doing online learning. There really wasn’t a lot of learning happening. Now we’re seeing studies documenting this," Dr. Sean O’Leary, a pediatrics infectious disease specialist at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus who helped write the academy’s guidelines told The New York Times.
O'Leary added that the virus is different from most of the respiratory viruses in that school-age kids don't seem to play a role in driving its rates within communities the way they do with other influenza strains.
"That doesn’t seem to be the case with Covid-19. And it seems like in countries where they have reopened schools, it plays a much smaller role in driving spread of disease than we would expect," he said.
Teachers at Orange County, one of Florida's largest school districts, are pushing back against the reopening plan, according to CNN.
"The Governor and Secretary are pushing a political and economic agenda over the safety and well-being of students, teachers and school employees," the Orange County Classroom Teachers Association said in a statement. "While we know that face-to-face learning is optimal, CTA will not support a reopening plan that could expose students, teachers or their families to illness, hospitalization or death."
Similarly, the United Teachers of Dade, which represents Miami-Dade County teachers, responded to the order on Facebook and said their schools are unlikely to reopen for in-person instruction and will likely return for virtual classes.
In the last week, Florida has continued to shatter its single-day record for coronavirus cases. On Saturday, July 4, the state reported a record 11,458 new cases.
As of Tuesday, July 7, there have been at least 206,439 cases of coronavirus in Florida, according to a New York Times database, and at least 3,777 people had died.
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