DeSantis, Corcoran praise opening of brick-and-mortar schools; teacher union fears spikes of COVID

Florida Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran touted the state's school-reopening plans in a roundtable at the White House on Aug. 12, 2020. Screenshot from video on WhiteHouse.gov

Gov. Ron DeSantis continued his series of public addresses about COVID-19 Wednesday with a salute to at least a dozen Florida public school districts that reopened for in-person learning this week.

He praised them for “keeping society moving” and said Martin County School Superintendent Laurie Gaylord told him that reopening was “akin to a Navy Seal operation.”

“Just as the Seals surmounted obstacles to bring Osama bin Laden to justice, so too would the Martin County school system find a way to provide parents with a meaningful choice of in-person instruction or continued distance learning,” DeSantis said in his brief address, televised from the Florida Capitol.

Meanwhile, Florida Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran was in Washington, D.C., Wednesday for a panel discussion in front of President Donald Trump.

Corcoran said students who do not resume in-person schooling are being “scarred” and that all 67 of Florida’s public school districts will be open for on-site learning by Aug. 31 so that parents can choose to place them there.

Parents still may choose to allow children to do online learning.

Corcoran told the president that six of at 13 Florida school districts already open reported nearly 100 percent participation by teachers.

“You know what the teachers want? Teachers want to be back in the classroom, with their kids, even if they have an underlying condition. They want to be back,” Corcoran said.

Still, Corcoran conceded, teacher unions are resisting.

“We are being sued by the union bosses, and they are disgraceful, absolutely disgraceful,” he said.

Trump, responding to Corcoran, said virtual learning is inferior, but took a few moments to praise virtual health care.

“One thing we’ve learned in this horror show of the China plague is that virtual is not as good as being there. We’ve also learned that telehealth is very good. Telehealth is up 3,500 percent. Virtual learning is not like being in a classroom. The answer is an old-fashioned one, isn’t it?” the president said.

FEA United Vice President Andrew Spar said during a telephone interview that DeSantis and Corcoran both are ignoring medical experts as they demand that brick-and-mortar schools reopen with full staffing, including requiring some teachers to simultaneously teach in person and via videocast for students learning remotely.

DeSantis has continued to use various public health data in discussing COVID-19.

The FEA lawsuit against DeSantis and other officials is pending, essentially over school districts being forced to send children to brick-and-mortar schools that the FEA believes are not fully safe.

“They’re playing politics with opening the schools,” Spar said. “Florida still has uncontrolled community spread. There are districts where they cannot even guarantee they will clean every classroom every day, much less sanitize.”

Florida Department of Health data does show COVID-19 infections in all counties, with the largest number of cases in Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach — the epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic.

Spar said pediatric cases of COVID-19 are already on the rise, and he fears they will spike roughly two weeks after students return to campuses. Meanwhile, he said, teachers with underlying conditions that make them highly vulnerable to COVID-19 are being asked to take leave or resign, he said.

“Teachers don’t get to choose. They’re front-line workers but they’re treated as second-class citizens,” Spar said. “They are saying teachers are so important, but their actions are saying, we don’t care about you