In recent weeks there have been several anti-mask demonstrations at the Broward County Public Schools building and at the Miami-Dade County school district headquarters.
Wednesday, something different happened: moms and dads showed up to demonstrate in favor of mask mandates.
The parents who gathered at the Miami-Dade County Public Schools building were keenly aware that Florida is leading the nation in children hospitalized with COVID-19, and they are asking the district to defy Florida’s governor and require masks for everyone, as Broward Schools did Tuesday.
Schools and COVID
“One child unmasked within a classroom can spread the virus to the rest of the classroom,” said Franzella Guido Chacon, a parent who has a nine-year-old and a one-year-old child.
The demonstrators wonder why — when everything worked well last school year with mandatory masking — does the state want to fix what isn’t broken? They point out that Gov. Ron DeSantis often bragged that Florida’s schools reopened and were not COVID-spreader environments. So they are baffled by the governor’s order prohibiting mask mandates in schools for this school year.
“To me, this is like a culture war over masks, and it’s just such a basic thing that can protect our kids. It makes no sense to me,” said Denise Frieden, who has a first grader and a fourth grader.
“It seems like we want our children to get COVID, it seems like we only cared about our elderly, and now that everybody else can get vaccinated, who cares about kids under 12? It’s a shame,” added Mario Salazar, father of a first grader.
Speaking in St. Petersburg Wednesday, the governor reiterated what he’s been saying for weeks.
“We believe this is a decision for the parent to make, just given the uncertainty about what it means, particularly for a lot of the young kids to be in that,” DeSantis said, referring to wearing a mask.
“There is no scientific evidence that states masking is harmful to children, and quite the contrary,” said Dr. Lisa Gwynn, a University of Miami associate professor of pediatrics.
Dr. Gwynn said there is ample evidence that masks help prevent the spread of airborne viruses among children and adults.
So on a day when Miami-Dade Schools would like the focus to be on the 31 new magnet and choice programs unveiled by the district — including agribusiness, cloud computing and entrepreneurship — everyone’s talking about masks in the classroom, and the governor’s threat to withhold salary from superintendents and school board members if they vote to require kids to mask up.
“At no point shall a threat against my salary factor in the decision I will make regarding the best interest of teachers and students in our community, I cannot compromise on that,” said Miami-Dade Superintendent Alberto Carvalho.
“These are kind of political games and threats that truly should not affect or influence our decision and I think we should follow the science and that’s been working for us,” said Miami-Dade School Board member Lucia Baez-Geller.
Following the science is exactly what Carvalho said his district will do.
“If we cannot trust doctors, scientists, medical experts, what is the alternative? Who shall we turn to for advice?” Carvalho said. “My position is not a political position, my position is one that takes into account the health and welfare of students.”
State Senator Annette Tadeo, a Democrat from Coral Gables, said her constituents are overwhelmingly in favor of mandatory masking for students and teachers.
“We have to control this virus, but when it comes to our kids, I draw the line. When it comes to our kids, moms and parents are coming together and saying enough, we’ve had it,” Taddeo said.