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Less than a week before schools reopened in Broward County, Florida, local union officials said three educators had died from complications from the coronavirus. The deaths were all recorded within 24 hours, according to union officials representing employees of the local school district.
Broward Teachers Union President Anna Fusco said the start of the new school year was a mixed bag of emotions as day one approaches.
“All the excitement of coming home was felt by our teachers when we got back to work on Wednesday,” Fusco told NPR by phone on Saturday. “And then the sense of anxiety that our governor is interfering with security protocols and wants to block the mask’s mandate because they know it’s an extra layer of protection. And then the deaths that have been reported.”
Fusco said Janice Wright, a teacher and shop steward at Pinewood Elementary, 48, Katina Jones, a teacher at Dillard Elementary, 49, and Yolonda Hudson-Williams, the teaching assistant, 49 , also from Dillard Elementary, were the educators who lost their lives to COVID-19 last week.
None of them have been vaccinated, Fusco said.
Schools in Broward County are expected to reopen for the new school year on Wednesday.
In an act of defiance aimed at Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis, the Broward County School Board on Tuesday voted 8 to 1 to make the wearing of masks in all schools and facilities in the district mandatory for students, staff and visitors, WLRN member station reported. The board of directors allowed parents to have their children “refuse” to wear a mask.
DeSantis has threatened to withhold salaries from superintendents and board members who oppose an executive order banning mask warrants in schools.
“He’s just pushing his political agenda to respond to the same voters who were pro-Donald Trump,” Fusco said of the governor. “I think because they scream louder, [he thinks] there must be more of it than the constituents that really take this virus [seriously] and want to be safe. “
Coronavirus cases have increased in Florida in recent weeks, spurred by the highly contagious delta variant.
Between August 6 and 12, state officials recorded 151,415 new cases of the virus, including 14,675 in Broward County.
According to data released Friday by the Florida Department of Health, 74% of Broward County’s population aged 12 and over have been fully immunized – well above the state’s overall total, which stands at 65 %.
Fusco said she was currently “torn” by discussions over mandatory vaccination, although she said she might change her mind once the Food & Drug Administration fully clears the vaccines.
“I don’t think we should have that position to mandate him right now – especially not me, the president of the 18,000-member bargaining unit,” she said. “But a mask warrant? You don’t inject anything into your body. It’s just a blanket.”
In neighboring Palm Beach County, more than 1,000 students were quarantined this week following an outbreak of the virus when schools opened there.