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This past week, Gov. Ron DeSantis spoke proudly of his handling of COVID in our state, calling Florida the freest state in the union and touting how he’s kept our public schools open.
“Millions of families in Florida are better for it," he crowed at the opening of the 2022 legislative session.
I wonder how many of those families he’s actually talked to, because there are a lot of us who don’t think this is better at all and we are deeply disappointed that the people elected to represent us are unable to work together in the best interests of our community.
Thanks to the actions of DeSantis and the Florida Legislature, our school district is no longer able to require masks in our public schools. Children are getting sick, which puts intense pressure on parents who have to take time off work to care for them.
At the same time, rising caseloads in our community are crippling our hospitals, straining overworked medical workers and threatening the very young and the immunocompromised among us, who are unable to benefit from the protection provided by the vaccine.
How can this be called freedom?
The numbers are eye-popping.
When students in Brevard County left for winter break in mid-December, there were 50 cases of COVID-19 per 100,000 people in our county and 27 cases reported in our schools. When they returned on Jan, 6, there were 800 cases per 100,000 people — and climbing — and 486 cases in our schools.
That same week, hospitals in Melbourne, Palm Bay, Cocoa Beach and Viera suspended all non-emergency surgeries that require an overnight hospital stay for at least the next two weeks as a result of the surge in COVID-19 cases in the community and increasing hospitalizations
Many of us hoped our school district would once again require masks in our schools–as they did in the fall until cases dropped to 50 per 100,000 people — but thanks to a new state law passed in November, our school districts can no longer implement a mask mandate because, if they do, parents can now sue them.
What’s more, the idea was floated last year that our governor could remove offending school board members and replace them with people more willing to do his bidding.
So, the Brevard Public Schools board members we elected to represent us have had their hands tied by our governor. No matter how much worse our COVID rates become, they can’t mandate masks, even though all credible medical sources recommend it. When one man can hamstring our local elected officials and subvert the will of the voters in our county, that doesn’t sound like democracy.
The governor and legislators who supported stripping our public school districts of the ability to require masks were loud in their assertion that this was necessary to protect the children in our state. But if that’s the case, why didn’t they impose the same rules on private schools? Surely they believe children in private schools are worthy of protection, too. But restrictions were placed only on the schools in our state that are run by elected boards.
In Brevard County, our county and state representatives are either conspicuously silent on this issue or they are joining DeSantis in attacking school officials and supporting additional restrictions, like the ridiculous prohibition against teaching critical race theory, or CRT, in our elementary, middle and high schools. CRT is an academic concept that is taught only at the college level.
While DeSantis and his buddies are stripping our school district of home rule and going after the nonexistent threat of CRT, our schools are cracking under the strain. Teachers are leaving, tired of the low pay, disrespect and lack of protection. A serious lack of substitute teachers made the district this week lower requirements — now you only have to be 18 to substitute in our elementary schools. The shortage of bus drivers has been constant throughout the pandemic, creating problems getting some kids to school.
Brevard County is the proud home of our country’s space program and many other technical businesses that offer good, high-paying jobs and bolster our economy. But those companies will find it much harder to attract employees if our public schools are in a shambles. Make no mistake; this is a situation that could hurt all of us, whether you have children in the schools or not.
The freedom the governor is touting looks more like a race to the bottom for our public schools. We need to do better for our children, our families and our community.
Jabari Hosey is the president of Families for Safe Schools and a Brevard Public Schools parent.
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This article originally appeared on Florida Today: DeSantis talks of freedom while schools and children suffer | Opinion