TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – The state recorded more than 31,700 new COVID-19 cases in Floridians age 19 and younger last week. There were also two additional deaths of Floridians under the age of 16 reported.
The new statistics come as the debate over school mask mandates continues to escalate.
The state’s largest teachers union is tracking school-related cases, quarantines and deaths. It’s found more than 5,400 infections of students and staff and more than 8,500 quarantines since Aug. 1, but Florida Education Association President Andrew Spar noted the actual number is likely much higher.
“About a third of the school districts are reporting COVID cases publicly on their websites this year, but two-thirds aren’t,” said Spar.
The FEA has also tracked three deaths of Florida children and 16 faculty members since July.
“We had 46 [faculty deaths] in total all of last year, a 12-month period, so it is quite concerning,” said Spar.
Seminole County student JJ Holmes, who has cerebral palsy, is worried he could become one of those statistics unless masks are mandated in schools.
In a virtual news conference with Florida Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, Holmes criticized Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ insistence that masks be optional.
“Gov. DeSantis is taking away my rights so he can give more freedom to other people,” said Holmes.
Only two school districts, in Alachua and Broward counties, have bucked the state’s parental opt-out requirement from mask mandates.
The state Board of Education is set to vote Tuesday on whether to withhold funding from those districts over the issue. The funding withheld would be equal to the salaries of the school board members and superintendents in the districts.
In a letter sent to the governor and Florida Department of Education, U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona indicated school districts could use federal relief dollars to supplement the salaries if they’re withheld.
In response to the letter, DeSantis’ Press Secretary Christina Pushaw said in a statement, “What we’re doing in Florida must be working, for Secretary Cardona to prioritize funding the salaries of politicians over students, parents, and teachers.”