“Before you get to that point of closing a classroom or closing a school, we want to have that communication with you because we want to be as surgical as possible,” Corcoran said, offering to provide specific names and numbers of officials who could take a call.
There is no reason, he said, to automatically close a school just because a student displays symptoms of covid-19 but has not been diagnosed. The goals of a “surgical” approach are to keep “everybody safe” and to allow students to “get the best possible learning experience and the best possible emotional and social support,” he said.
Asked about Corcoran’s comments on districts calling the state before shutting down classrooms or schools, Taryn Fenske, a spokeswoman for the Florida Department of Education, said in an email: “They’re not asking permission nor are we giving permission. We are constantly talking with districts.”
But one district leader, who was on the call with Corcoran and who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of fear of reprisal from the state, said some district leaders would now be reluctant to unilaterally shut down a school and send all students home for remote learning.
Meanwhile, the board of directors of the Florida High School Athletic Association voted late last week to allow schools to start fall sports Aug. 24 — a decision that ignores a recommendation from the organization’s own medical advisory panel, which had called for delaying fall sports until at least the end of September.
Cases of covid-19 are being reported in some Florida schools that have already opened. In Martin County, for example, where DeSantis said Superintendent Laurie Gaylord had told him recently that she viewed the reopening of schools as a mission “akin to a Navy SEAL operation,” more than 230 students have been told to quarantine because of possible exposure to someone with the disease.
(DeSantis, in an address on school reopenings, then expanded on Gaylord’s comment, saying, “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,” according to a transcript on a state government website.)
But in some parts of Florida, school officials aren’t disclosing exactly how many covid-19 cases are appearing in public schools that have opened. According to USA Today, school officials in Naples recently refused to give specifics about people who were told to quarantine, saying in an email: “It is not appropriate for us to disclose sensitive medical information, which if we did, would otherwise conflict with our obligations” under two federal laws.
Meanwhile, state officials and the Florida teachers union are holding mediation efforts Tuesday in a lawsuit filed by the union over DeSantis’s demand that schools open by Aug. 31, in a state that has high coronavirus rates, or risk losing state funding. DeSantis, an ally of President Trump, is going further than any other governor at the moment in insisting that schools reopen even where the positivity rates for coronavirus infection are high.
The union is seeking a temporary injunction, saying the order is unconstitutional. DeSantis’s administration has already threatened to withhold nearly $200 million from Hillsborough County, which had planned to start with all-virtual learning but now is opening buildings to keep its funding.
Circuit Court Judge Charles Dodson on Friday denied the state’s motion to dismiss the lawsuit and urged the sides to mediate a resolution. If no agreement is reached, a court hearing will begin Wednesday.