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Despite threat to salary, some Fla. school chiefs impose mask mandate

Published: Aug. 10, 2021 at 9:11 AM EDT
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(CNN) - Florida’s governor made headlines when he threatened to stop paying school officials who require masks for students.

Superintendents in at least four school districts are saying they don’t care; they’re putting health first.

“The governor should take the conservative step and do everything he can to protect the lives of our community. I believe the governor has other interests that he’s focusing on,” said Carlee Simon, the superintendent of Alachua County Schools.

She explained why she is choosing to defy the ban by Gov. Ron DeSantis on mask mandates in schools: “We need to be able to run schools, and we need to make sure that people aren’t testing positive or needing to quarantine.”

“Parents have the fundamental right to raise their children, their health, their well being, and that has to be respected by the state on all levels of government. So it’s our belief that it should be a parent’s choice,” DeSantis said.

The superintendent of Miami-Dade County Public Schools is also responding to the salary cut threat, saying: “At no point shall i allow my decision to be influenced by a threat to my paycheck.”

The back-and-forth comes amid a surge in new cases across Florida, the state accounting for nearly 20% of the nation’s cases.

There’s also an alarming rise of cases in children, with some pediatric hospitals overwhelmed.

“If we’re already seeing COVID-19 pediatric ICU admissions in children’s hospitalizations before school’s open, what’s going to happen after that?” said Dr. Peter Hotez of Texas Children’s Hospital.

“I’m really excited for the school year. It just is the best feeling to see your new crop of kids,” said Chloe Winant, who is entering her ninth year teaching sixth-grade science in Alachua County, where students are heading back to class.

“I think it’s important to model safety with the kids. I want to make sure they feel safe with me, and then I have a 2-year-old daughter at school who is starting school this year. And so I need to be able to protect her and her classmates,” she said.

Her school board will re-evaluate its decision to require masks on Aug. 17.

“It does make you pause, but our health and safety of students and staff, so we think we are within the guidelines of the law,” said Tina Certain, a member of the board that voted for the two-week mandate and could lose her salary over it. “I am actually just trying to stand firm on that and provide a safe learning and work environment.”

It’s a safety issue that doctors said could be a matter of life and death.

“I think bringing together large numbers of children, congregating them in classrooms with masks being optional – or worse yet even, forbidden – is just a formula for disaster,” said Dr. Mark Kline of Children’s Hospital in New Orleans.

More than 93,000 new cases of COVID-19 were reported among children last week, a 30% increase over the previous week.

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