Parents and students caught up in political skirmishes over mask and vaccine warrants

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In this dangerous new phase of the pandemic, as the seven-day average of new Covid-19 cases exceeds 100,000, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and other acolytes of former President Donald Trump have made demands in terms of school masks the new front of the Covid Wars culture.
Republicans like DeSantis and Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, both potential 2024 presidential candidates if Trump does not run, are trying to spruce up their conservative credentials by sticking to their bans on mask mandates, which are heading more and more to the courts. Under the pretext of giving control to parents, these Republicans have given up on the GOP’s long cherished principle of local control and are making a life or death bet with the lives of children.
At the same time, many teachers’ unions – who are normally allied with Democrats – have balked at the idea of ​​vaccination warrants, a position that seems at odds with their insistence last year on students and teachers alike. do not return to class. until it is safe. Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, failed to provide a linear explanation for their positioning on CNN’s “New Day” Friday, saying that if a city or jurisdiction calls for a vaccine requirement for schools , the unions would be “negotiating on these policies.”

The stubborn obstruction to common-sense safety measures from both ends of the political spectrum has pissed off parents, many of whom still worry about the lack of data on the long-term effects of Covid on children – especially those under the age of 18. 12 years old, who are still not eligible for Covid-19 vaccines.

A report from the American Academy of Pediatrics noted last month that although “it appears” that severe illness from Covid-19 is “rare” in children, “there is an urgent need to collect more data on longer-term impacts of the pandemic. on children, including ways in which the virus can affect the long-term physical health of infected children. ”

U.S. Education Secretary Miguel Cardona pleaded Sunday for political and educational leaders not to oppose security measures that would do the most to protect school children. He said he had personally contacted many governors directly, including Abbott and Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, who recently changed his stance on banning mask warrants in schools.

“To those making policies that prevent this, don’t be the reason schools are shut down, why kids can’t go to extracurricular activities, why games are canceled,” Cardona said on CBS News on Sunday. the Nation. ” “We need to do our part as leaders like Governor Hutchinson is doing, to make sure they have access to the decision they need to make to get their students back to school safely.”

Covid surge in Florida is testing DeSantis

DeSantis’ reckless experiment of turning his state into a “no restrictions or mandates” zone could yield alarming results as the Delta variant wreaks havoc on the state.
Florida reported more Covid-19 cases in the past week on Friday than any other seven-day period during the pandemic, and the state has accounted for about one in five Covid cases nationwide in the past two weeks. But unlike the same time last year, public health officials are starting to sound the alarm bells about the impact on children.

Florida International University infectious disease expert Dr Aileen Marty told CNN’s Jim Sciutto last week that “our children’s hospitals are completely overwhelmed.”

“Our pediatricians, nurses, staff are exhausted and the children are suffering, and it’s absolutely devastating,” Marty said on CNN’s “AC360” Friday night. “Our children are very affected. We have never seen such numbers before.”

As some Florida school districts ignore DeSantis’ order demanding masks – daring him to follow through on his threat to withhold funding from those who challenge him – a group of parents with school-aged children from counties across the state is now also challenging the constitutionality of his decree in court.

Charles Gallagher, an attorney working on the lawsuit, told CNN’s Rosa Flores that “they see it as a parental choice issue when it really is a public health issue.” Lawsuit, which notes Florida’s constitution requires a “uniform, efficient, safe, secure and high-quality system of free public schools,” accuses DeSantis and other state officials of usurping district powers local schools to make decisions for themselves.

The DeSantis order, argues the lawsuit, “wrongly assumes that state authorities can better determine local health risks and the educational needs of students and teachers than local officials elected to do so.”

“The community spread that will inevitably result from the dangerous reopening of schools without mask warrants will lead to an unfortunate and preventable increase in illnesses, long-term health complications and deaths in Leon County and the state of Florida,” according to prosecution.

Some Florida school districts are trying to get around DeSantis’ order with verbal gymnastics. Hillsborough County Public Schools in Tampa, for example, said on Saturday that the district will “require face coverings” when schools open, but they will allow parents to “opt out” if they fill out a form saying that they don’t want their child. to wear a mask.

Miami-Dade County Public Schools Superintendent Albert Carvalho told “Face the Nation” on Sunday that his school system was trying to implement a safe school reopening strategy while avoiding “fundraising strategies.” punitive “which could be a consequence of the challenge of the DeSantis order.

“It is sad that right now in America we see this rhetorical narrative deeply influenced by politics rather than medicine and the wise counsel of those who know best what is in the best interests of our students and the professionals who serve them. teach, ”Carvalho said. “We should pay less attention to loud voices that are often disconnected from reason and focus our attention on students, teachers and healthy and protective environments,” he said, adding that the strategy should include some degree. of “parental choice”.

Problems for school-aged children in other states

In some states where schools have already opened, the anecdotal results of students returning to class without masks in places with high community transmission are not encouraging.

The fifth and sixth grade classes at Ellsworth Elementary School in Pinal County, Ariz. – where the governor and legislature have banned mask terms – are already back in distance learning two weeks after starting of the school year due to Covid cases. In a letter to the governor this week, more than 150 Arizona doctors urged GOP Governor Doug Ducey to turn the tide, arguing that scientists do not yet know the impact on young brains.

In Arkansas, a judge temporarily blocked the state from enforcing its law prohibiting warrants to wear masks in schools. Pulaski County Circuit Judge Tim Fox issued a preliminary injunction last week in response to two lawsuits, one brought by officials from the Marion School District, which has more than 900 students and a dozen or so students. teachers in quarantine after finding positive cases in the first two weeks of school. .

Even before that injunction, Hutchinson had been one of the few GOP governors to publicly state that he regretted preventing school districts across the state from making their own decisions with that state’s ban.

“Facts change and leaders must adapt to new facts,” Hutchinson said on “Face the Nation” Sunday. “Every time I signed the legal business was weak. We were hoping everything was gone in terms of the virus, but it came back with the Delta variant.… I realized we had to have more options for our local school districts to protect these children.

This story was updated with additional details on Sunday.


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