Florida Dept. of Health Officers Advised Not to Let Schools Know If It’s Unsafe to Reopen

On July 6th, 2020, Richard Corcoran, Commissioner of the Florida Department of Education, issued DOE order no. 2020-E0-06. This order in part dictated that all brick and mortar schools must open this August at least 5 days a week for all students, subject to the advice of the FL Department of Health:

On July 15th, 2020, the Volusia County School Board held a special session meeting, via video conference, where one of the topics was whether or not it is safe to reopen the schools next month. During the meeting there was a dialog between Mr. Ruben Colón, one of the members of the Volusia County School Board, and Miss Patricia Boswell, an administrator for the Florida Department of Health in Volusia County.

During their discussion Miss Boswell revealed that apparently all of the health officers around the state of Florida have been advised not to say whether or not it is safe to allow the children and teachers to go back to school, despite the fact that the DoE order explicitly states that the schools must rely on the advice of the FDOH when making the decision as to whether or not they will actually reopen. Below is the excerpt of the meeting where this discussion took place and a transcript of the conversation.

Mr. Colón: So I am gonna – unlike Miss Cuthbert I am not gonna go down the road of hope, amd I’m going to speak about the responsibility that the governor has put on the Department of Health. Now, for the record I did submit these question to our wonderful health department so this is not a gotcha moment it’s a true question, so upon consider, so I am looking at the actual emergency order, it reads, “Upon reopening in August all school boards and charter school governing boards must open brick and mortar schools at least 5 days a week for all students, subject to advice and orders of the Florida Department of Health, local departments of health, Executive Order 20-149 and subsequent executive orders.” And so, my question to you Miss Boswell, is as the director of the Florida Department of Health, because you have been called upon by the governor to advise the school district, do you feel that based on current data, understanding that we are talking about today, do you feel that the current covid rates for our county are conducive to the safe reopening of the Volusia County Schools at this time.

Miss Boswell: The Department of Health and, you know, all of the health officers around the state has asked the Department of Health for guidance with this question, cause we’re all being asked this question by school boards. And we were… we’ve been… advised that our role here is to just advise as to what – how – what can we do to make the environment in schools as safe as possible with covid-19. It is not to make a decision on… on whether or not to open up the school.

Mr. Colón: Ok. Thank you for that. My next question is, as the director of the Florida Department of Health will you provide this board a date stamped letter indicating that based on a time certain date you feel that schools are safe to open, again the order reads subject to the advice and orders of the Florida Department of Health. So are you able to provide that to our board for guidance?

Miss Boswell: The county health departments are not providing those letters.

Mr. Colón: Thank you, and my last question is: will you provide the board a letter within 7 business days of the start of school indicating that your department still continues to feel that the return of students and teachers to our brick and mortar school buildings continues to be safe.

Miss Boswell: It would only be advisement on how to make the environment safe.

Mr. Colón: Ok, and so now I will turn to my colleges and say that one of the things that we’ll have to consider is that the department of health is not telling us that it is safe for students and teachers to come back to school, so upon that I think it’s gonna really be on us to make that decision because they are not, and again, no fault of yours Miss Boswell, I have dealt with your department in a professional manner, both career-wise and today and all the work you have done for out school district, and it’s unfortunate that the governor has put your office in a very uncomfortable position because once again the order says subject to the advice and orders of the Florida Department of Health, and again I understand that you’ve been given this directive, however I… in not having the advice of the Florida Department of Health you know I feel personally that the schools are not safe to open. And so I’m turning to the folks that we are being told that we are supposed to be working with and we are not getting that advice, so I have deep concern and I truly believe that this burden is going to be on us.

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