TALLAHASSEE (CBSMiami/NSF) -- Florida officials announced Tuesday they will eliminate testing requirements this spring for public-school students and extend the time in which kids will learn from home, as the state continues to grapple with the coronavirus pandemic.
Gov. Ron DeSantis said testing requirements for school-readiness, voluntary pre-kindergarten and public-school programs will be canceled for the 2019-2020 school year.
"Requirements for graduation and promotion and final course grades will be evaluated as though those assessments did not exist," the governor told reporters at a news conference.
Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran also said public schools will extend online learning until April 15. The state will re-evaluate after mid-April if kids should be allowed to go back to campuses, he added.
Most students are in extended spring breaks because of the coronavirus. Four school districts --- Duval, Union, Collier and Sumter --- have started to implement online learning as they wrap up extended spring breaks this week.
"It is essential that students do not fall behind and are still receiving instruction, even when they are not in the classroom," Corcoran said in a statement after the news conference.
To ensure all students have access to online learning, DeSantis said school districts will be allowed to dip into "various" pots of unused state funds to help low-income students pay for computers and home-based internet services.
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School districts will also be allowed to pay for "virtual" mental-health services for students impacted by the coronavirus, with the help of unspent funds lawmakers allocated for school safety and in-school mental health services, DeSantis said.
Florida Education Association President Fedrick Ingram told The News Service of Florida in a phone interview that he applauds the governor's efforts to keep students from coming to school and to waive testing requirements.
"It is going to be a new world out there for the next 60 days," Ingram said. "At the end of the day, I want people to know things are going to be different, but know we are trying to do our best."
The steps are parts of wide-ranging measures the DeSantis administration has taken to slow the spread of the coronavirus.
The number of coronavirus, or COVID-19, cases in the state has risen as testing ramps up. Health officials announced Tuesday evening that the state had 216 positive cases, with 195 of them coming from Floridians in the state. Officials announced another death, bringing the official number of fatalities to seven.
Fort Lauderdale Mayor Dean Trantalis said Tuesday that three people have died at two long-term care facilities but that the state only has test results for one of the people. Test results for the other two are pending, Trantalis told reporters.
But Florida health officials on Tuesday stopped short of confirming Trantalis' comments.
State Surgeon General Scott Rivkees noted that while authorities had concluded that one death was due to the virus, he would only say they were investigating another death at the same facility.
"We have one confirmed individual who passed from COVID-19, and all other individuals who have symptoms for that who have passed away are being evaluated," Rivkees said.
The Broward County assisted-living facility where the 77-year-old resident died from the virus has 218 beds, according to Rivkees.
DeSantis, meanwhile, gave a strong endorsement for having the federal government send financial assistance to Floridians as quickly as possible. The idea has gained traction in Washington D.C. as the nation's economy is under assault by shutdowns and disruptions caused by the outbreak.
"We have people living paycheck to paycheck," said DeSantis, who said he had spoken to U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., earlier in the day about the concept.
--- News Service Assignment Manager Tom Urban contributed to this report.
(©2020 CBS Local Media. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The News Service of Florida's Christine Sexton and Ana Ceballos contributed to this report.)
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