Coronavirus showdown in Florida as DeSantis rejects plan for Tampa-area schools

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The potential educational benefits of in-person teaching outweigh the health risks of opening schools during the pandemic, DeSantis said Monday. | Joe Raedle / Getty Images

TALLAHASSEE – Governor Ron DeSantis took a firm line on school reopens on Monday, standing firmly against Florida’s third largest school district in a showdown over classroom education and Covid-19.

DeSantis and Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran traveled to Hillsborough County on Monday to reiterate their case for the reopening of schools just days after rejecting a county school district plan to run online-only classes for its 223,300 students in the first four weeks of the fall semester is scheduled to begin on August 24.

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The potential educational benefits of in-person teaching outweigh the health risks of opening schools during the pandemic, DeSantis said at a panel discussion on Monday at Winthrop College Prep Academy in Riverview.

“Some of these things are no longer debatable,” DeSantis said. “We are going in the right direction in this area and that is just the reality.”

Hillsborough County, which includes Tampa, submitted a plan to reopen classrooms last month, but backtracked after local doctors warned school closings were likely to ensue. The county revised its plan to limit classes to online education, but Corcoran on Friday rejected this approach, saying he denies parents the opportunity to send their children back to school.

Hillsborough reported a 13% Covid-19 positivity rate on Monday, the fifth highest in the state. School officials did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

The district can resume offering in-person and online classes, which it originally planned, or develop a new plan that details the number of students who have requested in-person learning and why Hillsborough cannot offer this. option, Corcoran wrote.

Alternatively, the district can withdraw its plan to reopen entirely, limit itself to online education, and run the risk of losing state funding.

Corcoran has given Hillsborough County until August 14 to make a decision.

The stalemate arises as the state defends a lawsuit against the Florida Education Association in which teachers challenge state policy, claiming the pandemic is creating an unsafe environment in schools.

The Education Ministry issued an emergency ordinance in July requiring physical schools to open by Aug.31, a mandate that has confused local leaders. The department has since shown A desire to allow schools to start the year online, but Corcoran took a harder line in his letter to Hillsborough: In-person lessons are a must unless the county is still in the early stages of reopening others parts of its economy.

Corcoran described Hillsborough County as an outlier on Monday, as the majority of Florida’s 67 counties prepare to offer a mix of in-person and distance learning. Only Miami-Dade, Broward, Palm Beach, and Monroe counties are expected to start the year with strictly distance learning for most students.

Hillsborough County has the right to keep schools closed, Corcoran said, but move does not go by parents, students and teachers.

“We have 66 districts all very happy with the plans they submitted,” Corcoran said on Monday. “We have a district that submitted a plan, liked their plan, and then suddenly came back.”

DeSantis and Corcoran fended off questions from reporters on the Hillsborough County case on Monday, saying the Tampa area was in much better shape than South Florida.

Hillsborough County has reported 868 new cases of Covid-19 in the past three days, compared to 4,205 in Miami Dade County, according to the Ministry of Health. The county has had 1,396 hospitalizations and 388 deaths. Broward County has reported 3,904 hospitalizations and 821 deaths from the coronavirus.

Democratic state lawmakers used Monday’s event to denounce DeSantis for its response to the pandemic and to schools. The senses. Janet Cruz (D-Tampa) and Lori Berman (D-Delray Beach) have said the Republican governor needs to keep students safe instead of holding a “self-congratulations tour.”

“The governor fails miserably to lead this state through one of the worst catastrophes in our history,” Cruz wrote in a statement.

With teachers in at least 10 districts returning to classrooms this week, the Florida Education Association’s lawsuit against the state has yet to be heard. The case was assigned to a Leon County judge on Friday, but no hearing is currently scheduled.

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