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Gov. Ron DeSantis was asked in Brevard on Thursday about reopening schools. Florida Today

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At a Thursday news conference in Viera, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis announced the state has unveiled a plan to open public schools at "full capacity" this fall.

The plan, developed by the Re-Open Florida Task Force in conjunction with the Florida Department of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, provides a "road map" to support health and safety measures amid COVID-19 and close achievement gaps from the move to distance learning, DeSantis said.

It will be supported by nearly $1 billion in emergency funding from the $2.2 trillion federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security or CARES Act, passed by the U.S. Congress in March.

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The state Division of Emergency Management also will coordinate with school districts to ensure they have adequate personal protective equipment and sanitation supplies to help limit the spread of the virus, DeSantis said.

"Getting back on our feet in the school year, I think, is going to be really, really important for the well-being of our kids, but I also think it's important for a lot of parents, who have had to juggle an awful lot over these last couple of months," he said.

While the recommendations in the state's plan provide a framework for opening schools safely, much will be left to school districts to tailor the plan to their individual needs.

"We believe what that looks like may look different in Brevard than it does in Miami-Dade than it does in Baker County," he said. "We want to empower not just the superintendents but all of the local stakeholders to be able to craft a solution that makes the most sense for that area."

In Lee County, the school district is reviewing Gov. DeSantis’ reopening plans.

“Many of the safety precautions are ones we have been discussing and vetting already,” schools spokesman Rob Spicker wrote in an email. “We look forward to sharing the guidance with our PreK-12 Education Pandemic Response Task Force to develop a plan that best meets the needs of our students, parents, staff and community.”

The task force, who will meet virtually on June 17, works to “advise the Superintendent on the safe reopening and continued operation of schools during a global pandemic,” according to the district's school reintroduction page. 

Collier’s school district is assessing DeSantis’ plan, like Lee, district spokesman Chad Oliver wrote in an email.

Details surrounding Collier’s reopening plan will be shared in July, according to an email to parents that was expected to be sent out Thursday evening.

At a Collier County school board meeting Tuesday, staff detailed the district’s status of reopening plans and procedures in a presentation to the board.

From employee safety to operations ⁠— work surveys, temperature checks, health screenings and bus schedules — they are part of a larger "checklist of considerations" as planning for next school year is underway. 

“Again, this is not a comprehensive look at this time these are things we are considering as we look forward to returning to school,” Tammy Caraker, associate superintendent of school and district operations, said at the meeting.

Caraker said the district’s ongoing conversations with Collier’s Florida Department of Health focus on topics from masks for students and staff to social distancing guidelines for reopening schools. 

DeSantis' announcement comes as Florida experiences a steady uptick in confirmed cases of COVID-19.

State Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran addressed concerns about reopening schools amid the pandemic, saying "all the data was in" showing children are "at extremely low risk" of contracting or spreading the virus.

"We have a safe opening plan. We're going to be smart. We're going to be safe. We're going to do it step-by-step, " Corcoran said, echoing the verbiage of the state reopening team's branded "Smart. Safe. Step-by-Step." campaign.

"We want schools fully open in the fall, because there is no better way to educate our kids that having that great teacher in front that child," Corcoran said.

Eric Rogers is the education watchdog reporter for FLORIDA TODAY. Please consider subscribing to support important local news on education, business, crime and other topics you care about.

Contact Rogers at 321-242-3717 or esrogers@floridatoday.com. Follow him on Twitter @EricRogersFT.

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