LARGO, Fla. - As the COVID-19 numbers continue to fluctuate, Governor Ron DeSantis addressed some of the concerns Wednesday that parents and teachers have about the new school year.
The governor said closing schools will worsen existing achievement gaps, lead to more kids dropping out of school, and lead to more social isolation, depression, and anxiety. He said schools must open, but there should be options for families and educators.
On Wednesday, school leaders in Citrus and Pinellas counties got into the details of their plans and how to address families’ and teachers' concerns.
Citrus County school administrators approved two delays, postponing the start of school to August 20 and the start of student sports to August 24. Superintendent Sandra Himmel said the governor called her to make sure there is flexibility in learning options for families.
“I had a 25-minute conversation with him yesterday. He asked me that question specifically, ‘Will you allow students to come back in brick and mortar schools after they’ve enrolled in virtual and started?’ and we’re going to be very flexible with that,” said Himmel.
Citrus County schools also approved a mask mandate but not all parents were on board.
Whether it’s in-person, e-learning or virtual, students have been presented with a variety of options to learn this year. The governor said teachers should also have that choice.
"For those teachers who may be higher risk or even those who just don’t feel comfortable with in-person instruction, they should be given the option of working remotely. Why force someone to teach if they are uncomfortable doing so? Let’s find a way to make due,” said DeSantis on Wednesday.
Pinellas County school leaders said they are in the process of collecting teacher feedback.
“Right now, they do have an opportunity to request an alternative assignment, and that could be one of the virtual options at this time,” said Paula Texel, the associate superintendent of human resources at Pinellas County schools.
As for daily temperature checks, Pinellas administrators are leaving that up to parents.
“Parents really know their own students best. They know what symptoms may be related to previously diagnosed, chronic related conditions that their student might have,” said Sara O’Toole, the managing officer of school health services at Pinellas County Schools.
Pinellas school administrators said parents have until July 27 at 5 p.m. to choose their child’s learning option. They also said they’re not opening up student athletics as planned next week.
Citrus County said its postponed date for fall sports could potentially change again, depending on the changing circumstances of COVID-19.