Republican state Rep says Aug. 10 school start date would be ‘potentially catastrophic’

Republican State Rep. Rene "Coach P" Plasencia represents parts of Orange and Brevard counties. Credit. Florida House of Representatives.

A Republican state House member from Central Florida is urging school board members to back off sending kids to brick-and-mortar classrooms in August.

“I strongly encourage you to postpone bringing the majority of our students back for face-to-face instruction in August,” State Rep. Rene Plasencia wrote in a letter earlier this week. “An Aug. 10 start date for students, with an expected teacher return of July 31st, is potentially catastrophic.”

Plasencia, who also goes by “Coach P,” addressed the letter to “Dear School Board Members,” though it wasn’t entirely clear which school boards were being referenced. Plasencia represents part of Orange and Brevard counties in the state Legislature.

The July 13 letter was posted on a Facebook page by a group called Parents Across America – Florida.

“If I, as a member of The Florida House of Representative, had the statutory authority to vote for the postponement of face-to-face instruction, I would,” Plasencia said in the letter. “We know this virus kills and our children and teachers cannot be kept safe.”

Most school districts in Florida are scheduled to reopen Aug. 10, according to state department of education data on school calendars for 2020-21.

That’s less than a month away, and COVID-19 infections continue to surge as millions of Florida students are preparing to start the academic year.

The Florida Department of Health reported 9,194 new infections on Tuesday, with a total number of infections at 291,629. The death toll is now 4,409 for Florida residents.

“The public health concerns attributed to this pandemic are considerably higher now…,” Plascencia said.

He cited 15 years as an educator in the classroom, and said that school board members should give more credence to virtual school options, such as Florida Virtual School and Orange County Virtual School.

Plascencia’s letter came following an emergency order from Gov. Ron DeSantis and Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran in early July.

Corcoran signed an emergency order saying “upon reopening in August, all school boards and charter school governing boards must open brick and mortar schools at least five days per week for all students.”

In a press conference Monday, DeSantis said that he thinks schools should provide options for parents.

“When you’re looking at the schools, I think a lot of parents want to have the option to send them back,” he said. “But do I think parents should have the ability to opt for virtual, if they want to.”

“I’ve told the Commissioner of Education ‘work with these districts, collaboratively,’” DeSantis said.