JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis visited a charter school in Jacksonville Tuesday, advocating for school closures to be off the table completely.
"It's not our decision to close, but no, we're not going to recommend school closures," he said. "It's not proven to be something that is effective."
His visit came the same day officials at Providence School, a private school in Jacksonville, announced its students will learn online Wednesday due to two confirmed cases of COVID-19. The high school will be disinfected Wednesday, school officials said. Providence is the third school in the past week to move online due to COVID-19 outbreaks.
Douglas Anderson School of the Arts will be virtual through Oct. 29. Nine students tested positive and two teachers, an outbreak Duval County Public School officials said they think is tied to an off-campus dance event.
Students at Fletcher High School are also learning virtually due to an outbreak there. They'll be learning online through Oct. 28. Thirty-nine students tested positive and four teachers after an off-campus party during homecoming, DCPS officials said.
When asked about the DCPS closures, DeSantis admitted he didn't know about them, while calling to keep them open.
"I don't know on these individual schools how they're doing it," he said. "I don't know the facts on all of that, but I can say broadly speaking, parents are going to be able to send their kid to in-person into the future. We just have to do it. It's something that's very important."
DeSantis's argument has always been that keeping students out of class is worse for them than risking the virus.
“We have to face the facts that there are gaps in learning that built up over March, April, May, June and, of course, over the summer, although we did work to get summer instruction available," DeSantis said.
At the press conference Tuesday, he said it was the district's decision to close those schools, not the state's, and he doesn't believe healthy students should be quarantined.
"For somebody that has had just a glancing exposure to someone in a hallway or something, to then say they're out for two weeks when they're perfectly healthy is not the way to go," DeSantis said. "It's even more clear now that schools are not the drivers of spreading Coronavirus and schools need to be open and it's a bad public health policy to have schools closed."
Gabby Valerio is a senior at Douglas Anderson. She said when they got the call Tuesday afternoon victual learning would be extended through Oct. 29, she was upset but understands why.
"I understand what they're trying to do," she said. "It's unfortunate, but we will survive. We will do it," Gabby Valerio said.
Gabby Valerio said she and her classmates will make the most of it. She said they have a virtual spirit week planned for next week.
Her mom, Jessica Valerio, agreed, saying she thinks DCPS officials made the right call for right now.
"I'm happy that they're taking more precautions. At the same time, it's kind of a back and forth because I'm kind of hoping they can get back to normal because that is what's best," Jessica Valerio said.
She said she watched the governor's press conference live and thought after what DeSantis said, DCPS would decide to reopen Douglas Anderson.
"I'm happy that they're trying to be careful with our kids and the staff and the teachers," she said.
Jessica Valerio said she was also extremely surprised that the governor didn't know about the local closures due to COVID-19.
"I thought that of course with him coming here, I thought someone would let him know, 'by the way, you’re coming here to talk in Jacksonville about this going on and in Jacksonville we have school closures happening, so that was a little shocking," she said.
Jessica Valerio said she does have concerns about in-person learning, though, but wants her daughter to participate in her program at the performing arts school.
“As a parent, it definitely is a little bit scary," Jessica Valerio said.
“Myself and my parents who live next door, we all have some major health issues. I’m recovering from major surgery at the moment, so those things make you a little bit more nervous," she said.
DCPS's threshold to close a school is if an outbreak impacts, or has the potential to impact, 20 percent of the school, which it has at both Fletcher and Douglas Anderson.
A spokesperson with DCPS said they didn't find out DeSantis was in town until they saw it on the news.
Regarding the governor’s statements about closing schools, the spokesperson said, "we follow all of the protocols that we have to follow with the respect to reporting the cases that we have and the actions that we take through the Department of Education.”
The spokesperson also sent First Coast News a screenshot of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's guidelines, and highlighted the specific protocols DCPS uses. Some of the highlighted portions included the section talking about what counts as close contact, and to stay home for 14 days after your last contact with a person who has COVID-19.