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Florida To Reopen Schools For Fall Semester Despite Coronavirus Crisis


President Trump says schools should reopen in the fall. At a White House roundtable with health and education leaders yesterday, he made that clear that he intends to put pressure on governors to make sure school districts do this.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Everybody wants it. The moms want it. The dads want it. The kids want it. It's time to do it.

GREENE: Now, the president did not cite any evidence of that claim. But during a call with governors yesterday, the president's Education Secretary Betsy DeVos insisted that schools should be fully operational five days a week. There is one state that has already made this decision - the state of Florida. School districts in that state have been mandated to open at least five days a week for all students by the end of the summer. This is a move that is eliciting all kinds of reaction in the state. And let's go to Jessica Bakeman from member station WLRN.

JESSICA BAKEMAN, BYLINE: On the day President Trump tweeted in all caps, schools must open in the fall, Florida's governor - and a close ally of the president - sent a similar message to school districts in the nation's third-largest state. Jacob Oliva is a top education official in Republican Governor Ron DeSantis' administration.


JACOB OLIVA: All schools need to be open.

BAKEMAN: He explained to school district leaders during this webinar on Monday, all students must have the option to return to school in person five days a week starting in August, unless local health officials say otherwise.


OLIVA: We've overwhelmingly heard from a majority of districts that they are ready to start school.

BAKEMAN: Not all districts are on board. Robert Runcie is superintendent in Broward County, which is also a COVID-19 hotspot.

ROBERT RUNCIE: We do not see a realistic path to opening all district schools with 100% full enrollment.

BAKEMAN: His district, the sixth largest in the country, is considering a hybrid model with students spending about half the time at school and half the time at home online. That's just not enough for parent Adam Herman (ph).

ADAM HERMAN: Educationally speaking, spring was a disaster for my children.

BAKEMAN: Herman wants his three daughters back in their Broward public schools full time.

HERMAN: I am infinitely more concerned about the mental health aspects and emotional aspects and the social aspects than I am about the exposure to COVID for my children.

BAKEMAN: While it is rare, three children in Florida have died of COVID-19. That's Sandra Almeida's (ph) nightmare. She's an elementary school teacher in Miami's Little Havana neighborhood. She says the Miami-Dade district's plans for keeping kids and teachers safe, like mandating masks and social distancing, are well-intended but unrealistic.

SANDRA ALMEIDA: For my kindergartners this year, I socially distance delivered their diplomas. So I drove up to their houses, and I stayed in my car, and I handed them the diploma. And they were trying to hug me through the car window.

BAKEMAN: She'd rather teach from home. She's worried she could catch the virus from her students and give it to her 85-year-old father or her asthmatic mother.

For NPR News, I'm Jessica Bakeman in Miami. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Jessica Bakeman reports on K-12 and higher education for WLRN, south Florida's NPR affiliate. While new to Miami and public radio, Jessica is a seasoned journalist who has covered education policymaking and politics in three state capitals: Jackson, Miss.; Albany, N.Y.; and, most recently, Tallahassee.
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