As Florida’s Republican-led Board of Education warned school districts they would face fines for not complying with Gov. Ron DeSantis’ ban on mask mandates, leaders in the state’s fourth-largest city issued a plea that vividly illustrated the consequences of the governor’s refusal to follow public health guidance.
“This is another unfortunate impact of the pandemic continuing to surge in our community.”
—Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer
On Friday, the state Board of Education ordered school boards in Alachua and Broward counties to disclose the salaries of all their members so that the DeSantis administration can begin withholding 1/12 of their pay each month. The move is retaliation for the districts’ implementation of mandatory mask requirements for all staff and students in defiance of DeSantis‘ ban on such sweeping mandates.
The Republican administration accuses the districts of running afoul of a rule requiring public schools to “allow for a parent or legal guardian of the student to opt-out the student from wearing a face covering or mask.”
State Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran explained in a press release that “these are the initial consequences to [the districts’] intentional refusal to follow state law and state rule to purposefully and willingly violate the rights of parents. This is simply unacceptable behavior.”
Proponents argue that mask mandates will save lives in a state with one of the nation’s lowest coronavirus vaccination rates, and some of its highest Covid-19 infections and hospitalizations. Public health experts say the former is a direct cause of the latter.
“You’re having a very difficult situation because of the low level of vaccination that you have, not only in Florida but some of the other states,” National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director Dr. Anthony Fauci said earlier this month. “Florida is really one of the worst in the sense of the number of new cases and now the number of new hospitalizations.”
President Joe Biden responded to Florida’s threat against the school boards by vowing to cover any salary shortfalls caused by punitive withholding.
Let me be clear: We will do everything we can to support local school districts in safely reopening schools. American Rescue Plan funds can be used to backfill the salaries of the brave Florida school board members, superintendents, and other educators keeping our children safe. https://t.co/sDoZHm3MMH— President Biden (@POTUS) August 20, 2021
“The Biden Administration is fully committed to a safe and healthy return to in-person learning for all students this fall,” U.S. Education Secretary Miguel Cardona said in a statement. “It is deeply troubling to see state leaders putting politics ahead of the health and safety of our students, and that instead of supporting our educators for doing the right thing, state leaders are trying to punish them.”
In another unintended consequence of Florida’s largely preventable Covid-19 surge, Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer and the Orlando Utilities Commission on Friday urgently appealed to residents of the state’s fourth-largest city to dramatically cut back on their water usage due to a pandemic-driven shortage of liquid oxygen, an essential component of water purification.
Our partners at @OUCreliableone are asking residents and businesses to limit the watering of lawns and washing of cars. Many unvaccinated, critically-ill patients require liquid oxygen (which OUC uses to treat our water) at hospitals and it’s in great demand nationally. pic.twitter.com/bLGtLdmWke— Mayor Buddy Dyer (@orlandomayor) August 20, 2021
According to The Orlando Sentinel:
If commercial and residential customers are unable to reduce water usage quickly and sufficiently, Orlando Utilities Commission may issue a system-wide alert for boiling water needed for drinking and cooking. Without reductions in water usage, a boil-water alert would come within a week, utility officials said.
Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer asked residents to immediately stop watering their lawns, washing their cars, and using pressure washers. Landscape irrigation consumes about 40% of the water provided by OUC.
“This is another unfortunate impact of the pandemic continuing to surge in our community,” Dyer, a Democrat, said at a news conference. “And it’s another result of what happens when residents do not get vaccinated, become critically ill, and need dire medical support and treatment.”
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