TALAHASSEE, Fla. – The state last week registered more than 31,700 new COVID-19 cases among Floridians aged 19 and under. Two additional deaths of Floridians under the age of 16 had also been reported.
The new statistics come as the debate over school mask mandates continues to escalate.
The state’s largest teachers’ union tracks school-related cases, quarantines, and deaths. More than 5,400 student and staff infections and more than 8,500 quarantines have been found since Aug. 1, but Florida Education Association president Andrew Spar noted the true number is likely much higher.
“About a third of school districts are reporting COVID cases publicly on their websites this year, but two-thirds are not,” Spar said.
The FEA has also tracked three deaths of Florida children and 16 teachers since July.
“We had 46 [faculty deaths] in total last year a period of 12 months, so that is quite worrying,” says Spar.
Seminole County student JJ Holmes, who has cerebral palsy, fears he could become one of those stats unless masks are required in schools.
In a virtual press conference with Florida Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, Holmes criticized Florida Governor Ron DeSantis’ claim that masks are optional.
“Governor. DeSantis is taking away my rights so he can give other people more freedom,” Holmes said.
Only two school districts, in Alachua and Broward counties, have violated the state’s parental opt-out requirement from mask mandates.
The state council of education will vote Tuesday on whether or not to withhold funding from those districts on the issue. The withheld funding would be equal to the salaries of the school board members and inspectors in the districts.
In a letter to the governor and the Florida Department of Education, U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona indicated that school districts could use federal aid dollars to supplement salaries if they are withheld.
In response to the letter, DeSantis press officer Christina Pushaw said in a statement, “What we’re doing in Florida has to work so Secretary Cardona prioritizes funding politicians’ salaries over students, parents and teachers.”
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