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Florida Schools To Remain Open In Spring As DeSantis Calls Closures 'Biggest Public Health Blunder In Modern American History'

KISSIMMEE (CBSMiami) – Gov. Ron DeSantis doubled down on his opposition to school closures on Monday by announcing Florida's public schools will continue in-person learning through the spring semester, and parents will be notified and encouraged to send their children to in-person instruction if the student is not performing well with virtual instruction. However, parents can opt-out, allowing their child to remain virtual.

Gov. DeSantis made the announcement with Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran at Boggy Creek Elementary School near Kissimmee.

"As we see schools, unfortunately, remain closed in key pockets in our country, today's announcement doubles down on Florida's commitment to our students and to our parents. And the announcement is this; schools will remain open for in-person instruction, and we will continue to offer parents choices for this spring semester, and every parent in Florida can take that to the bank," said DeSantis. "The reason why we're doing that is because the data and evidence are overwhelmingly clear, virtual learning is just not the same as being in person. I think teachers in Florida have done a great job of trying to improvise and really particularly in those early days, but the fact of the matter is the medium is just not the same as being in the classroom, so we wanted to figure out a way to still offer the parents a choice, but really put the onus on the school districts to be monitoring this and when they see a student fall behind, to really be affirmative in engaging with the parents. I think it is a good model going forward."

WATCH: Ron DeSantis News Conference On Schools

The governor called the closure of schools during the pandemic "the biggest public health blunder in modern American history," adding, "schools are a safe place to be."

DeSantis said the harm from the closure of schools will "reverberate" for years and labeled people who advocate for closing schools as "today's flat earthers."

"All you had to do is talk to a teacher, they all said the same thing, that it was not the same, and that kids were falling behind," DeSantis added.

Meantime, the Miami-Dade County Public Schools coronavirus dashboard shows there have been 1,172 positive COVID-19 cases since schools reopened on Oct. 5; 766 students and 406 employees. In the last 30 days, there have been 764 cases; 514 students and 250 employees.

The Broward County Public Schools coronavirus dashboard shows 653 positive COVID-19 cases since schools reopened on Oct. 9; 333 students and 320 employees. In the last 30 days, there have been 527 cases, 253 students and 274 employees.

WATCH: Miami-Dade Superintendent Alberto Carvalho Weighs In

Miami-Dade County Public Schools Superintendent Alberto Carvalho weighed in on the governor's promise to keep schools open. While Carvalho is pleased with the decision, he says safety is the top priority.

"I continue to maintain the position that the best decisions regarding opening and closures of schools are made at the local level informed by local health officials, and that is something that is a constitutional right of school boards, school districts and superintendents," said Carvalho. "Our position has not, at this point run, amok of the governor's position and we hope that doesn't not come to pass."

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Monday's news conference was the Governor's first public news conference in nearly a month.

When asked where he's been, DeSantis said he's been working on vaccine development and distribution plans with members of Operation Warp Speed and the CDC.

"We're not gonna have unlimited [vaccines] in the first month," DeSantis said. "I think we pretty much will have one for every American in the first few months."

DeSantis said Florida's share of whichever vaccine gets approved first would be at least a million, maybe as much as two million, in the first few months.

Asked about requests to require Floridians to wear masks, DeSantis maintained his opposition to issuing such mandates.

"How has that worked out in the states that have done it? Has that stopped an outbreak in Minnesota, Illinois, Michigan. What about New Jersey? What about all these states where you have an explosion in cases?" DeSantis replied. "So, I mean, at some point, does the observed experience matter? I'm opposed to mandates. Period. I don't think they work."

Miami Beach Mayor Dan Gelber does not agree with Gov. DeSantis.

"We have to sort of police this playground and that's a whole other task. I worry very much about this surge for this major reason. In Florida, hospitalizations have gone up over 70-percent just in the month of November," said Mayor Gelber. "I am very concerned that the governor is really not just in the wrong direction, but he's refusing to see it."

WATCH: Miami Beach Mayor Dan Gelber's Response

The governor's comments come just days after mayors from several South Florida cities called for another mask mandate, and stricter COVID-19 restrictions to curb the spread of infection.

Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, the only statewide elected Democrat, also called DeSantis' approach to the pandemic "bullish," with "a lack of empathy that really is my greatest concern as we've gone through this pandemic."

"Every community is going to be a little different. Every community is seeing different spikes," Fried said on Monday. "Not giving that type of authority to the locals and not trying to show leadership on this has really been his downfall. He really has lost a lot of the public's trust in dealing with this response."

Since Nov. 15, the state has averaged more than 8,500 new coronavirus cases a day, the highest rate since late July.

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