ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Florida students have been learning from home for weeks amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
Schools are set to re-open May 1 but an online petition posted Sunday to Change.org is urging state officials to reconsider and keep students home for the remainder of the school year.
"They would literally be going back for two weeks," said Vanessa Brito, who created the petition. “It is completely unfair ... for the kids, the parents, the teachers – it’s a huge risk.”
Supporters say returning too soon could “put our teachers at risk and exponentially propagate the virus.” While younger people appear to be less susceptible to the virus, they are not immune, researchers say. They can also be asymptomatic carriers.
"If we allow children to gather, they will likely spread or get the virus," Dr. Anthony Fauci, a member of the White House coronavirus task force and director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said last week.
Gov. Ron DeSantis said Tuesday a decision on how the state will proceed beyond May 1 had not yet been determined.
The governor said he would be creating a task force for what he called "Phase 2," focused on how to re-open schools and businesses in the state.
“It’s not just about going back to school at the end of May for a couple of weeks,” DeSantis said. "We’re talking about what the fall semester is going to look like for K through 12, what it's going to look like for our universities."
Previously, DeSantis suggested that getting students back in class could be decided on a county-by-county basis, as some areas are harder hit by the virus than others.
His office did not respond to questions from 10News about the petition.
The president of Florida’s statewide teachers union sent a letter to DeSantis on Tuesday pleading to keep schools closed.
"It's time to declare that students will continue learning at a distance for the rest of the 19-20 school year," said Florida Education Association president Fedrick Ingram. "As much as our students and educators want the opportunity to be back at our schools, returning prematurely will threaten the safety and well-being of all on campus."
Ingram acknowledged concerns with distance learning and the "inevitable inequities that result from it," but said the potential damage that could be done from returning to classrooms too soon "far outweighs the inconvenience of continuing to social distance."
"If you decide to keep school campuses closed ... there will undoubtedly be those who accuse your administration of overreacting," wrote Ingram, who then quoted Dr. Fauci: "If it looks like you are overreacting, you are probably doing the right thing.”
The latest models from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation show Florida has not yet hit its peak in coronavirus deaths. Updated projections show cases are expected to peak in early May.
As of Tuesday afternoon, more than 25,000 people had signed the petition. The posted goal is 35,000.
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