Fear and anger were palpable at the school board meeting in downtown Miami on Aug. 18. A virulent strain of the coronavirus had ravaged the state for most of the summer. Since early July the delta variant has sent 1,900 children to hospitals in Florida— more than in any other U.S. state. Within days of classes beginning, at least 20,000 kids and teachers in the state’s five largest school districts had contracted or possibly been exposed to the virus.
Dozens of parents had signed up to speak about a proposal to mandate face masks in school. During the meeting, Franzella Guido Chacon held up a petition supporting a mask order, signed by 11,000 people. “We do not want the start of school in Dade County to become a superspreader [event] like we are seeing throughout Florida,” she said. Outside more parents held up placards for and against masks as some shouted, “Save our kids!”
Hours later, the Miami-Dade County School Board voted to require 340,000 students to wear a mask in class—defying an executive order from the governor and his education department.
As the school year commences, Floridians are openly revolting against Governor Ron DeSantis’s ban on mask mandates in schools. It hasn’t swayed the 42-year-old DeSantis, who says parents—not schools—should decide whether kids need to mask up. He’s stepped up his campaign, vying to withhold the salaries of superintendents and school board members who support mask mandates that don’t give parents the right to opt their kids out.
It’s a stance in line with his opposition to government-imposed economic shutdowns, curfews, and mask orders, which has raised his profile during the pandemic and made him a national face of the Republican Party. DeSantis, who’s up for reelection next year, is considered a contender for the presidency in 2024.
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