Florida Governor Ron DeSantis has been outspoken in his effort to not only keep the state of Florida “open” during the pandemic, but also his promise to keep schools open as well. He’s received a great deal of criticism from the White House, but DeSantis is unfazed.
In the wake of the latest surge in COVID cases, chiefly the result of the Omicron variant in the United States, many schools across the nation are considering remote learning rather than returning to in-person learning when winter break is over. The union associated with public schools in Chicago is looking to go remote, and schools around Milwaukee and Detroit are among a multitude of others that are considering the same.
However, Governor Ron DeSantis (R-FL) has vowed that schools in his state will not be exclusively remote regardless of how many students or teachers test positive for COVID upon returning from winter break.
DeSantis addressed the issue at a press conference in Jacksonville on Tuesday. The governor of the Sunshine State said his administration is going to prioritize testing for the elderly as well as those with existing risk factors for illness. Some political pundits are drawing comparisons between DeSantis’ approach to testing while the Biden Administration appears to be struggling to roll out a free at-home testing program for all Americans.
DeSantis pointed to the policy set in place by Florida Surgeon General Joseph Ladapo in September, the beginning of the school year in the Sunshine State. Rather than keeping healthy students who test positive for COVID-19 or who have been exposed to the virus, only symptomatic students are sent home. This means far fewer students are staying out of school for weeks on end, especially if they have no symptoms.
DeSantis said his approach is based on scientific evidence. “Our schools will be open in the state of Florida,” the governor said. “If you look at the data that’s been amassed through the pandemic, it’s found that you have worse outcomes by closing schools. And so it’d be so damaging. Kids need to be in school.”
DeSantis is referring to a slew of mental health issues among children and teens who have been out of school for most of the two year period since the pandemic began in early 2022. In March of 2021, polling showed that 46 percent of parents believed their children were showing signs of deteriorating mental health since the pandemic began. Two months later, polling among high school students showed that 25 percent had experienced “worsened mental and cognitive health” as a result of the pandemic – including the government’s response to the pandemic.
DeSantis said that data is showing that schools “have not driven wages of the virus in the past.” He went on to say that universities, both private and state-run institutions, will remain open. DeSantis also said that institutions of higher learning that did not remain open for in-person learning should have to refund the full cost of tuition to parents. The Florida governor cited schools such as the Chicago public schools and in Portland, Oregon when he stated that schools that are keeping students in remote learning situations are really denying children their right to an education.
Florida’s Surgeon General pointed to wasteful testing resources – testing to return to school or work after an initial positive test, testing for travel, and testing for those who have been exposed but who show no symptoms. Ladapo says that the Biden Administration’s insinuation that more testing will help put the pandemic to an end is absurd. “The fantasy that the federal leadership has painted that you can stop the pandemic by doing more testing . . . it’s completely failed. . . published papers show . . shutdowns and quarantines hurt kids . . . we’re stopping it in Florida.”
Florida is putting pressure on the Biden Administration to allow the state to buy more monoclonal antibody treatments, which appear to be in short supply as do tests at this point. The oral medication to treat COVID-19 have just been approved and likely will have little effect on treating those with the Omicron variant.