This content is being provided for free as a public service to our readers during the coronavirus outbreak. Please support local journalism by subscribing to the Northwest Florida Daily News.
FORT LAUDERDALE — Gov. Ron DeSantis said Saturday that schools would remain closed for rest of the academic year, calling it a fairly easy decision because the prospect of reopening for just a few weeks in May offered little academic benefit.
"You had kind of a division among folks whether this was a good idea or not," the governor said during a news conference in Tallahassee. "The last thing you want to do is force everyone to have school and have half the kids not show up because their parents didn't want, their teachers didn't want to do it."
Locally, Okaloosa County school officials passed word of the DeSantis’ decision along to parents and other interested parties by telephone and social media Saturday evening.
The Okaloosa County School District’s Facebook page noted that the announcement means “that schools will remain with online instruction for the rest of the school year.”
“That means Okaloosa County students will continue with the online learning platform that has been in place since March 30,” the Facebook announcement continued. “Families have done a remarkable job thus far, and we will have a successful completion to the school year as we continue to work together and support each other. Please contact your school if you have any questions regarding your child’s online learning progress.”
The School District’s Facebook post went on to note that “all school feeding sites and bus stop feeding locations will be open through the last day of school, which is May 29.”
Saturday’s announcement also nted that the School District remains committed to honoring this year’s graduating high school seniors in some way.
The Okaloosa County School District will provide further updates via its website, www.okaloosaschools.com, or through its Facebook and Twitter platforms.
Elsewhere in the area, Santa Rosa County Schools Superintendent Tim Wyrosdick had only a brief comment Saturday evening on Gov. DeSantis’ announcement.
“We will continue to provide a high-quality education for our students virtually, and will engage with them to make their learning meaningful,” Wyrosdick said.
Walton County Schools Superintendent Russell Hughes was not immediately available for comment Saturday evening, nor did the school’s website or social media channels include any information on DeSantis’ announcement.
DeSantis, a Republican, said he understands the social impacts of kids not being able to see friends. He said he plans to ease some restrictions in the next phase of the state’s response to the coronavirus, cause of the serious respiratory illness COVID-19, so that "kids will have a little bit more to be able to do," but he didn't elaborate on what that would look like or when it might happen.
In DeSantis’ own home, his wife, Casey, has not left the house since the end of February. She gave birth to the couple's third child at the end of March.
"I see how it is to be inside and not be able to go out every day inside my house," he said.
Meanwhile, the state is also working on developing a system with private labs for quick-turnaround COVID-19 testing, to get "5,000, 10,000 in each lab turned around within 24 hours," which DeSantis said will provide critical data to drive policy decisions around reopening the state.
The state has come under criticism for lagging behind other states in testing.
The governor said a massive number of tests were returned in the last two days. As of Saturday evening, state health officials said more than 25,400 people in Florida had tested positive for COVID-19, leading to more than 3,700 hospitalizations and at least 748 deaths.
Access to quick turnaround tests opened up after Medicare and Medicaid started reimbursing $100 per test. The governor said that wasn't an option a week ago because labs weren't willing to do it for $50.
DeSantis said he's also considering investing money so state labs can do their own quick turnaround tests, saying it makes sense to spend a million dollars up front on a machine, instead of contracting it out to private labs.
"If we plan on (paying private labs to process) tens of thousands of tests a day ... that's going to add up pretty quickly, so if we have our own capacity then that would be able to do a lot."