DeSantis calls for “normal school year” in the fall
Florida schools were among the first to re-open in fall 2020. Now, the Governor has his sights set on achieving a more ordinary school year when students return in the fall.
Gov. Ron DeSantis was on the receiving end of heavy criticism in 2020 for his bold decision to re-open Florida schools amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. Critics called his decision “reckless” and “insane.”
But in the time since, many observers believe DeSantis has been vindicated. Florida public schools have been open since fall 2020, and data suggests they have made little contribution to viral spread. Nationally, a CDC study noted that “there has been little evidence that schools have contributed meaningfully to increased community transmission.”
DeSantis is now calling for a “normal school year” this coming fall.
“These kids do not need to be wearing these masks,” DeSantis said in May. “We need to be able to let them be kids.”
The Florida Department of Education has recommended that districts make masks voluntary for the 2021-22 school year, although the final decision will likely be up to each individual district. DeSantis has also said he does not support requiring kids who appear healthy to quarantine due to potential exposure to infected individuals.
Expert opinion is mixed on the importance of masks in schools, with some drawing a distinction between indoor and outdoor settings.
“I don’t think kids should be wearing masks outside,” said former FDA commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb. “I think the risks of wearing a mask and heat exposure are probably greater than any benefit they are going to derive from wearing a mask.”
Indoors, however, Gottlieb agreed with the CDC’s recommendation that masks continue to be worn for the time being: “In a crowded, indoor, stuffy setting, in a classroom, for example, I think having kids continue to wear masks for a period of time is reasonable.”
Still, even the CDC is considering updating that guidance before the new school year begins in the fall. In support of his recommendation against school mask-wearing, DeSantis cited a new study which found no correlation between mask mandates in schools and the transmission of COVID.
“The data speaks for itself,” he tweeted.
Another consideration that points in favor of ditching masks in the fall is that the vaccination rate among children may be significantly higher by that point.
DeSantis, who has been harshly critical of fellow governors who were more reluctant to open schools, went toe-to-toe with powerful teachers’ unions to get schools reopened in August 2020. Florida students were offered a choice between returning to school in-person and learning remotely.
“Those who insist on keeping the schoolhouse doors closed,” DeSantis tweeted this February, “are ignoring evidence and placing special interests ahead of the best interests of children and families.”
By March of this year, 80% of Florida students were attending schools in-person full- or part-time. Seeking to incentivize similar results in the rest of the nation, Republican Sen. Marco Rubio sponsored an amendment to President Biden’s coronavirus relief package that would have given more funding to schools that were open for more days of in-person learning each week. But the amendment failed, with every Senate Democrat and one Republican voting against it.
School closures throughout America over the past year have had devastating effects on children’s academic and emotional development. The impacts were felt most heavily by minority and low-income students.
“The failure of so many places outside of Florida to open schools at the beginning of the school year,” said DeSantis, “will go down as one of the biggest policy blunders of our time.”
At least on the issue of pandemic school closures, the Sunshine State seems to have gotten it right when so many other states didn’t, providing significant benefits to Florida schoolchildren.