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America’s classroom war
Sensemaker audio

America’s classroom war

America’s classroom war

Florida’s Governor Ron DeSantis has blocked a mask mandate for the state’s schools, going against advice from the Center for Disease Control. But with a fourth Covid wave causing more hospitalisations, can the state really afford to “get back to normal”?


Transcript

andrew, narrating:

Hi, I’m Andrew and this is Sensemaker.

One story every day to make sense of the world.

Today, the battle lines being drawn across America’s classrooms.

*** 

[Clip of parents protesting]

“It’s April 15 2021, and it’s time! Take these masks off of my child!”

“Not only did we suffer the deep depression, we suffered severe germaphobia. I can’t even touch him. I can’t even hug my child unless he’s about to go take a shower.”

“I don’t think anyone’s thinking logically anymore, I think they just let this really just run crazy with masks…”

Parents speaking

What you’re hearing there is the fierce debate that’s currently taking place across America’s classrooms. 

School board meetings are becoming aggressive, a teacher was hospitalised after being hit by a parent, and some children have been stopped going to school altogether. 

The pinch point? Whether children should have to wear a mask whilst at school.

“I wanna see my kids smiling. I want them having fun…”

Governor Ron DeSantis

That’s Governor Ron DeSantis. He’s a Republican who’s been Governor of Florida since 2019.

And just before the schools went back this August, Governor Ron DeSantis signed an executive order blocking mask mandates in the state’s schools… he’s decided to go against guidance from the Centre for Disease Control because according to him, that guidance “lacks scientific evidence”.

“Whether parents want their kids to have to wear masks all day in school, I think that’s a decision that falls squarely within the contours of this parent’s bill of rights that I signed.”

Governor Ron DeSantis

For Governor Ron DeSantis, it’s the parents who should get to decide whether their children should wear a face mask or not.  

But it’s caused a storm. 

And some of Florida’s largest school districts are beginning to fight back. They’ve overridden the decision by re-introducing mask mandates because of rising Covid cases in their area. 

But because of this, Governor Ron DeSantis has now threatened to withdraw funds from these districts. He’s keen to “get back to normal”, and move on from the pandemic. 

But the question is, can Florida, and states like it, really afford to?

***

With lockdown and social distancing rules being lifted across the country, for many in Florida it feels like the pandemic is on the back burner. 

As of the 18th of August, 61 percent of the state’s population have had their first jab, while 50 percent are double jabbed. That’s about in line with other states across the United States. 

So you can see why Governor Ron DeSantis is keen to get back to normal.

But unlike other parts of the United States, Florida has been hit hard by the fourth wave.

“Florida has officially become the epicentre of the one, two, three, fourth spike of the coronavirus in the United States. It is averaging 20,000 new cases a day of late and 85% of the state’s hospital beds are now occupied…”

CNN

With no small thanks to the Delta variant, there’s been a surge in infections and hospitalisations across Florida.

“The White House Covid response team says Florida has more cases than 30 states combined, doctors say patients there are much younger than before, getting sick at a faster rate…”

ABC News

And it’s not just adults getting sick anymore, it’s children too.

“I’m trying to encourage everybody to please take this Delta variant very seriously due to the transmissibility. It is incredibly contagious and our children are getting sick. I can’t do this…”

Paediatrician in Florida speaking

At the beginning of August, 135 children under the age of 18 were hospitalised due to Covid. And since returning back to the classroom, thousands of children are already having to isolate because of coming into contact with Covid cases.

As vaccinations are only being offered to children over the age of 12, many parents feel their kids are at risk. 

So why isn’t Governor Ron DeSantis listening?

***

Throughout the pandemic, it’s not just masks that Governor Ron DeSantis has been controversial about.

“And I just want to say in Florida, there will be no lockdowns, no school closures, there will be no restrictions and no mandates in the state of Florida…”

Governor Ron DeSantis

Back in May, he signed a bill into law prohibiting businesses, schools, and cruise ships from requiring proof of vaccination. His approach to the Covid-19 pandemic has been, well, like former president Donald Trump’s. 

In fact, many have even tipped Governor Ron DeSantis off as the “Trump 2.0” presidential candidate. 

So you can’t be blamed for thinking maybe this is all just a political move for DeSantis.

Mask wearing for kids is simply symbolic of how he means to go on when the 2024 presidential election rolls around.

Today’s episode was written and produced by Imy Harper.