In a fight that has escalated to the point where the Florida governor has cut funding from the salaries of members of two school boards in two counties (Alachua and Broward) for requiring the use of masks, the state's top district remains firmly in position.
Given the rise in COVID cases throughout the country, and particularly in the state of Florida, the resumption of face-to-face classes has become a concern for many. As a precautionary measure, several school districts - including Miami-Dade - determined that their schools must wear masks for students and staff.
But the state of Florida, particularly its governor, has a personal crusade against the mandatory use of masks. On more than one occasion, Governor Ron DeSantis has said that having students wear masks should be made by parents, not by school officials. This week, two school districts that made masks mandatory, Broward and Alachua, received a cut in funding for their salaries due to not following the state mandate.
Representatives from Miami-Dade public schools, which represent the fourth largest district in the country, sent a letter to the Florida Department of Education claiming that Governor DeSantis's administration is violating the state constitution by preventing school districts from deciding their policies regarding the use of masks. The letter was signed by the superintendent of schools, Alberto Carvalho, and the school board president, Perla Tavares Hantman.
The letter comes in response to a request from state education commissioner Richard Corcoran, who asked districts last Friday to put their reasons for adopting different mask-wearing policies in writing by 5 p.m. Wednesday.
"It is clear that the school board has a huge interest in controlling the spread of a virus that can be deadly, such as COVID-19. Therefore, the school board, based on medical advice and what has been said by public health experts, has asserted its duty to protect the lives and health of our students and employees through the least restrictive measures possible.", is detailed in the letter.
Miami-Dade has a student population of more than 304,000 minors. So far, although infections have been registered in the two weeks since the 2021-2022 school year began, there have not been significant sources of conditions in schools.
However, this week, the district is grieving the deaths of teachers from COVID-19. None of the three were vaccinated against the virus.
They are Michael Thomas, a teacher at William H. Turner Technical Arts High School in the West Little River area; Abe Coleman, a teacher at Coleman Elementary School in Liberty City; and Lillian Smith, a first-grade teacher at Dr. William A. Chapman Elementary School.
The three of them had started the school year on August 23 giving classes, but very soon, they fell ill and had to leave the classroom. No contagion has been reported within schools as a result of these three cases.
"The loss of any of our employees is deeply felt because we are all part of the Miami Dade public school family. We extend our hearts and our prayers to the loved ones of those whose lives we have just lost," said Jackie Calzadil, spokesperson for the public schools.
Since August 13, 148 employees and 72 students tested positive for COVID-19 in Miami-Dade public schools. In addition to the more than 300,000 students, there are more than 52,000 employees.