Children should be learning in classrooms.
That was the message from Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis on Thursday, less than 24 hours after the Palm Beach County School Board reached a consensus to start the 2020-21 academic year with online-only classes.
"Educating our kids is absolutely essential," DeSantis said during a news conference at the Jacksonville Port Authority. "I have no doubt we can do this safely."
Claiming that students across the state have suffered an "education gap" from online distance learning, he urged school districts to consider opening brick and mortar schools right away for the 2020-21 academic year.
"I want our kids to be able to minimize this education gap that I think has developed," DeSantis said. "In spite of good efforts with the online, it's just not the same. So I worry about that gap."
The governor added he's concerned about the social impact that distance learning is having on children.
"There's something to be said for being in school, seeing people you know, growing up like a normal kid," DeSantis said.
On Wednesday, the Palm Beach County School Board reached a consensus to start the 2020-21 academic year, which is slated to begin on Monday, Aug. 10, with online-only classes due to the ongoing threat of the coronavirus pandemic.
A final vote will take place on July 15.
DeSantis, whose three children are not old enough to attend kindergarten, said he would send them to elementary school if they were of age.
"I would not hesitate to put them in, in terms of the risk. Because the risk, fortunately for kids, is extremely, extremely low," DeSantis said.
While the governor supports having children in classrooms, he did admit that exceptions should be made for students with significant health issues, and ultimately, the choice is up to parents.
"Different parents have different calculations. If a parent wants to opt for virtual education, they should absolutely be able to do that. We shouldn't be forcing them to do any kind of decisions," DeSantis said.
Last week, the Florida Department of Education issued an order requiring public school districts to open brick and mortar schools five days a week.
However, districts have flexibility with the format of the 2020-21 academic year based on the recommendations of local health officials.
There are 232,718 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Florida as of Thursday, an increase of 8,935 cases from the day before.
In addition, the number of coronavirus-related deaths in Florida jumped to 4,009 on Thursday, a record increase of 120 deaths in just one day.