Florida To Reopen Schools For Fall Semester Despite Coronavirus Crisis

Jul 8, 2020
Originally published on July 8, 2020 9:08 pm
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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

President Trump says schools should reopen in the fall. At a White House roundtable with health and education leaders yesterday, he made that clear that he intends to put pressure on governors to make sure school districts do this.

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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Everybody wants it. The moms want it. The dads want it. The kids want it. It's time to do it.

GREENE: Now, the president did not cite any evidence of that claim. But during a call with governors yesterday, the president's Education Secretary Betsy DeVos insisted that schools should be fully operational five days a week. There is one state that has already made this decision - the state of Florida. School districts in that state have been mandated to open at least five days a week for all students by the end of the summer. This is a move that is eliciting all kinds of reaction in the state. And let's go to Jessica Bakeman from member station WLRN.

JESSICA BAKEMAN, BYLINE: On the day President Trump tweeted in all caps, schools must open in the fall, Florida's governor - and a close ally of the president - sent a similar message to school districts in the nation's third-largest state. Jacob Oliva is a top education official in Republican Governor Ron DeSantis' administration.

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JACOB OLIVA: All schools need to be open.

BAKEMAN: He explained to school district leaders during this webinar on Monday, all students must have the option to return to school in person five days a week starting in August, unless local health officials say otherwise.

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OLIVA: We've overwhelmingly heard from a majority of districts that they are ready to start school.

BAKEMAN: Not all districts are on board. Robert Runcie is superintendent in Broward County, which is also a COVID-19 hotspot.

ROBERT RUNCIE: We do not see a realistic path to opening all district schools with 100% full enrollment.

BAKEMAN: His district, the sixth largest in the country, is considering a hybrid model with students spending about half the time at school and half the time at home online. That's just not enough for parent Adam Herman (ph).

ADAM HERMAN: Educationally speaking, spring was a disaster for my children.

BAKEMAN: Herman wants his three daughters back in their Broward public schools full time.

HERMAN: I am infinitely more concerned about the mental health aspects and emotional aspects and the social aspects than I am about the exposure to COVID for my children.

BAKEMAN: While it is rare, three children in Florida have died of COVID-19. That's Sandra Almeida's (ph) nightmare. She's an elementary school teacher in Miami's Little Havana neighborhood. She says the Miami-Dade district's plans for keeping kids and teachers safe, like mandating masks and social distancing, are well-intended but unrealistic.

SANDRA ALMEIDA: For my kindergartners this year, I socially distance delivered their diplomas. So I drove up to their houses, and I stayed in my car, and I handed them the diploma. And they were trying to hug me through the car window.

BAKEMAN: She'd rather teach from home. She's worried she could catch the virus from her students and give it to her 85-year-old father or her asthmatic mother.

For NPR News, I'm Jessica Bakeman in Miami. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.