The COVID-19 pandemic continues to develop with more and more cases in public schools throughout the state of Florida. In light of these continued developments, the Citrus County Democratic Executive Committee (DEC) has issued the following revised statement on mask mandates in schools:
We as a society must always protect our children. Everyone’s life depends upon minimizing exposure to COVID in all its variant forms. Health is a life-and-death issue. Our freedom depends on minimizing exposure to COVID. You are not free if you have to worry that your school is an unsafe place. Children and educators cannot devote full attention to learning when they are anxious about their safety.
Americans care about each other. This is the basis of our democracy. Patriotism requires that we minimize everyone’s exposure to deadly disease. Children who are exposed to this virus are not safe. Their focus is disrupted. They will miss days of school if they have to quarantine. They may get very sick. They can suffer long-term health impairments. They can die. That is not freedom.
Florida leads the nation in children hospitalized with COVID-19. Our children under the age of 12 are not currently able to get vaccinated. Therefore, masks and limited exposure are their only defense. During the first week of school in Citrus County our district reported 182 positive cases of COVID including 163 students and 19 teachers and staff. People exposed to those reported positive cases are now in quarantine. We do not know how many cases have gone undiscovered or how many have been unknowingly exposed. We do know that many children endanger themselves and others by not wearing masks.
Florida’s constitution says district school boards “shall operate, control and supervise all free public schools within the school district.” Gov. DeSantis has failed Florida and we deserve better. The governor should be setting policies to protect the health, safety and welfare of our citizens based on medical science. Instead, he is attempting to further his own political goals by bullying, and blackmailing our school leadership. On July 30, as Florida was recognizing the power of the COVID-19 delta variant, Gov. DeSantis signed an order blocking Florida school boards from putting in place mask mandates and told the secretary of education to withhold funds from schools that do not comply.
By overruling local and county life safety decisions, the governor has exceeded his constitutional authority. Challenging bad leadership requires courage, but it is based on irrefutable truth. School boards in six Florida counties have already taken a stand for the health and safety of their children. More will follow. Our school board and the district are responsible for keeping our children, educators, and everyone on campus safe. The members of the Citrus County School District and members of the Citrus County School Board must act in accordance with the unequivocal recommendations of medical and science experts for the freedom and safety of all.
Masks protect our freedom. Masks protect our children. Masks allow our children to remain in the classroom. This is a life safety issue, nothing else. We urge the Citrus County School Board to adopt a mask mandate for all people within public school buildings. The lives of our children and educators are not negotiable.
Bob Madeiros is the chairman of the Citrus County Democratic Executive Committee.