Teachers in Florida die of COVID-19 as schools begin to reopen
Governor Ron DeSantis has issued an executive order that punished districts forcing a mandate.
With an ongoing debate around mask mandates happening across multiple U.S. states, many are starting to see impacts, including the recent loss of three Florida educators.
In Florida’s Broward County, a week before schools are set to reopen, local union officials say three educators have died of complications from the coronavirus. According to union officials, the deaths were recorded within a 24-hour span.
NPR first reported the deaths of the three educators as 48-year-old Pinewood Elementary teacher, Janice Wright, 49-year-old Dillard Elementary teacher Katina Jones and 49-year-old teaching assistant Yolonda Hudson-Williams, also of Dillard Elementary.
According to NPR, who spoke to Broward Teachers Union President Anna Fusco, the start of the new school year created a mix of emotions for teachers returning to in-person learning for the Fall semester.
"The whole excitement of going back was just running through our teachers when we went back to work on Wednesday," Fusco told NPR. "And then the sense of anxiety that our governor's interfering with the safety protocols and wanting to block the mask mandate because they know it's an extra layer of protection. And then the deaths that were reported."
Although Florida no longer has a mask mandate, school districts have been debating on taking the right precautions when it comes to requiring masks for students, teachers and staff.
This comes after the Florida Department of Health issued an emergency rule, which mandates that parents be allowed to stop their children from wearing masks in the classroom.
Despite the state’s emergency rule, many districts have defied the order, even after Gov. Ron DeSantis in an executive order issued on July 30, gave the state education commissioner the authorization to deny money to districts that don’t comply with the rules.
With that being said, the Broward County School Board became another district to defy the state’s order and voted 8-1 on Aug. 10 to make wearing masks in all district schools and facilities mandatory for students, staff, and visitors, but allowed for parents to have their children "opt out" of wearing a mask.
“Being afraid that we're going to lose our job, be removed from office, fined, lose our salary — bring it! Bring it,” school board member Nora Rupert told WLRN. “Because when you put that out there, it makes me work harder for our school children and our families.”
The increase of COVID cases in Florida has contributed to the fear districts are facing with many already making their way back to in-person learning.
State officials recorded 151,415 new cases of COVID-19 between Aug. 6 and Aug. 12 with 14,675 of which were in Broward County.
Despite the threats from Gov. DeSantis, union leaders representing thousands of Broward County school district employees, were just some who showed up to the Aug. 10 board meeting.
Jim Silvernale, who works for the Federation of Public Employees and his union represents non-instructional employees, including bus drivers, cafeteria workers and maintenance staff, spoke about the importance of masks to staff members.
“Our people are out in the front lines every day, they're concerned,” Silvernale told WLRN. “They're scared. We want to see the mask mandate.”