I stand here tonight not only as Governor of Florida but as a husband, a father, a son and a friend.
To have a conversation about how we as Floridians approach these challenging times.
Floridians from all walks of life have been asked to do a lot to help fight the coronavirus pandemic. Jobs have been lost. Businesses have been shuttered. Families have been separated. Our kids have seen their normal routines turned upside down.
As the prevalence of the virus has increased over the past many weeks, fear and anxiety have increased as well. There is fear of the virus, of course. But also apprehension about what it means for families, jobs, and education as we approach the school year.
The choice before us is whether we face our challenges with determination and resolve, guided by evidence…. OR….. whether we allow ourselves to become paralyzed by fear.
Fear doesn’t help us combat the virus; the stress and apprehension it fosters just makes our health situation worse and knocks society on its heels.
We have to fight the virus by being laser-focused on protecting our populations most vulnerable to COVID-19 – such as our elderly residents in long-term care facilities – while also ensuring that our state continues to function. We cannot do one to the exclusion of the other.
This virus isn’t political and doesn’t care which political party you belong to. Together, we will persevere. Together, we will get through this difficult chapter.
I’m here to tell you that things will get better when it comes to the coronavirus. They will get better because you have undertaken great efforts to protect yourself, your loved ones, your employees, colleagues, friends and neighbors.
You followed state guidelines by physically distancing, exercising proper hygiene, wearing a facial covering and avoiding high-risk environments. Our senior citizens, in particular, have been admirably cautious in their activities.
Please keep it up. It will pay dividends.
As a parent of three, I know that my fellow parents here in Florida want nothing more than to provide a bright future for their children.
This includes providing the best possible education for every child in our state. Our fight against COVID shouldn’t lead us to unnecessarily deprive our kids of the tools they need to succeed.
Here’s the hard truth:
Our kids are at the least risk from this virus
Our kids also play the smallest role in transmission of the virus
Yet, it is our kids who have born the harshest burden of our control measures
It is often asked whether it is safe to return kids to school, but it should also be asked how safe is it to keep schools closed?
You can bet your bottom dollar that keeping schools closed will:
–exacerbate existing achievement gaps between demographic groups
–lead to more kids dropping out of school
–disproportionally impact the least economically affluent Floridians
–foster more social isolation, depression and anxiety
–harm students with special needs
–deprive students of the ability to engage in sports and extracurricular activities
While the risks to students from in-person learning are low, the costs of keeping schools closed are enormous.
Distance learning was a stopgap measure adopted at a time when there was still uncertainty about the role of children in spreading the virus.
Florida did better than most states with distance learning, but it is a far cry from in-person instruction and placed a tremendous burden on parents.
We also know more than we did then… people forget that Florida never closed day cares during the pandemic and there is no evidence of this accelerating the spread of the virus. And the experience in other countries suggests that open schools is not a major factor in the transmission of the virus in the community.
I believe we owe every Florida parent a choice to send your child back to school for in-person instruction or to opt to maintain distance learning.
The evidence that schools can be opened in a safe way is overwhelming, yet I also understand the apprehension that some parents may feel and I believe in empowering them with a choice.
No parent should be required to send their child to in-person instruction if they do not want to.
I also believe that special accommodations must be made for all students with significant health issues who may be more at-risk from the virus.
I know many teachers and faculty are chomping at the bit to get back in the classroom because they know how much their students depend on their tutelage.
We support you and want you to feel safe. Safety precautions have been made for those who have worked throughout the pandemic — from health care workers to grocery store clerks – and I’m confident the same can be made for our educators.
For those teachers who may be higher risk or even those who just don’t feel comfortable with in-person instruction, they should be given the option of working remotely. Why force someone to teach if they are uncomfortable doing so?
Let’s find a way to make due.
And if a school district needs to delay the school year for a few weeks so that everything will be in good shape, have at it. The important things is that our parents have a meaningful choice when it comes to in-person education.
To our students – you are the future of Florida. Every generation has made sacrifices so that the next generation would have the ability to thrive.
We cannot be the generation that deprives you of the opportunity to live up to your God-given potential.
We can best fight the virus by having a healthy, functioning society and that especially includes our schools.
Let’s not let fear get the best of us – and harm our children in the process.
We must stay strong. For we will succeed.
Thank you and God bless you.