The chairwoman of the Broward County School Board in Florida said on Sunday that the district had no choice but to defy Gov. Ron DeSantis’s ban on mask mandates.
“We’re living out the nightmare of the Covid pandemic, where so many people in our county, including members of our staff and others, are being impacted,” said Rosalind Osgood, who heads the school board, on the CBS program “Face the Nation.”
Florida’s cases are soaring. The state reported a seven-day rolling average of 21,706 new daily cases on Saturday amid the worst surge of the pandemic. Deaths and hospitalizations are spiking, yet the number of tests administered has decreased.
Broward County has lost two teachers and an educational assistant to complications from Covid-19, Dr. Osgood said. The school board imposed a mask mandate for students, staff and visitors; a doctor’s note is required for student exemptions.
“We believe that we have a constitutional obligation to protect the lives of our students and staff,” Dr. Osgood said.
After Mr. DeSantis threatened to withhold school funds, the Biden administration stepped in. Officials said they supported the mask mandate and would allow the schools to use funds from pandemic relief measures to replace the salaries.
“It was very encouraging to get the support of the White House during this very, very difficult time that we find ourselves in,” Dr. Osgood said.
Educators in Florida are aware of the negative impact of so much time away from in-person schooling for many students, including mental health risks and declining academic performance, she said. That made the mask mandate all the more important, along with on-site testing measures, vaccination access and air filtration.
“We’ve been working extremely hard to put these in place, and we’re not going to risk their lives by allowing it to be optional,” Dr. Osgood said.
Other states have imposed similar bans on mask mandates. Recently, the Arkansas governor said he regretted approving such a ban and hamstringing schools’ ability to protect students under 12, who cannot yet be vaccinated.