Four Teachers in School District Defying DeSantis' Mask Ban Die From COVID on Nearly Same Day

Four teachers in one Florida school district died of COVID-19 on nearly the same day that their local school board decided to go against Governor Ron DeSantis' ban on mask mandates.

A Broward County Public Schools board spokesperson declined to disclose when exactly they died or confirm if they were unvaccinated when asked by Newsweek, citing that their employees' medical information is not public record.

On Friday, local news outlet 4CBS Miami reported that all four teachers in the district died between Tuesday and Wednesday within a 24-hour span.

Broward Teachers Union President Anna Fusco said that they included an elementary and a high school teacher, according to 4CBS Miami, and that three of the teachers who passed away were unvaccinated.

The school board on Tuesday voted for face coverings to be mandatory for staff and students at all district schools and facilities, according to a statement that a board spokesperson sent to Newsweek on Friday.

"After listening to comments from 48 public speakers and reviewing more than 350 written comments submitted by community members, the School Board voted eight to one to implement the rules set forth by the Department of Health and the Florida Board of Education," the statement read.

The rules will be implemented "with the exception of section 1D, which states schools must allow for a parent or legal guardian of the student to opt out of wearing a face covering or mask."

Broward County Public Schools are set to kick off their academic year on August 18, the spokesperson said. While the school district "strongly encourages" getting the COVID-19 vaccine, a proof of vaccination will not be required as the schools reopen.

Fusco said she is glad that the school board took a different approach to masks on Tuesday, saying, "We got a little bit of relief, keeping mask protocols, hand sanitizer, extra sanitizing."

Mourning the loss of the teachers, the chair of the Broward County School Board, Rosalind Osgood, said, "I have been on the school board for nine years, and for nine years you get to connect with them," according to 4CBS Miami. "You love them. They become family."

"The pandemic is real. It's killing people and it is leaving people with some life-long challenges," Osgood said during a news briefing on Tuesday.

DeSantis on Friday appeared to back down a bit in the mask mandate dispute.

On July 30 the Republican lawmaker signed an executive order "ensuring parents' freedom to choose" whether their child wears a mask. However, some Florida school districts, including Broward and Alachua, have defied this rule and made masks mandatory in school unless the child can provide a doctor's note as COVID-19 hospitalizations increase in the state.

DeSantis' office responded by saying the state's Board of Education could withhold salaries from school board members or the superintendent.

Osgood said during the news briefing, "We have instructed our legal counsel to challenge the rule [and] threat [made] by the governor that impact the salaries of school board members or superintendents. I was extremely troubled by the fact that the threat put me in a position to choose someone's life over monetary value. I am not an individual who is going to take a chance with somebody's life and play Russian Roulette by putting them into an environment with someone without a mask."

On Friday, the governor's office softened its stance, acknowledging that the state has no control over local employees' pay.

A DeSantis spokesperson called on "anti-science school board members" to dock their own salaries if the state follows through with financial sanctions against their district.

"Those officials should own their decision—and that means owning the consequences of their decisions rather than demanding students, teachers, and school staff to foot the bill for their potential grandstanding," Christina Pushaw, the governor's press secretary, wrote in an email to the Miami Herald and Tampa Bay Times.

Florida is experiencing the highest rate of children hospitalized with COVID-19 in the U.S. according to data from the CovKid project, which uses COVID-19 hospitalization numbers from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Florida is reporting 8.1 children hospitalized with COVID-19 per 100,000 residents, As of August 7.

Florida also has the highest rate of COVID-19 hospitalizations among residents aged 18 and 19. As of August 7, Florida reported 20.6 hospitalizations per 100,000 people aged 18 and 19.

The story has been updated to include statements from the Broward County Public Schools district and public comments from Rosalind Osgood.

Florida Schools
Four teachers in the Broward County Public Schools district in Florida died of COVID just as the district opted to defy Governor Ron DeSantis’s ban on mask mandates. Above, students at Hillsborough High School await temperature checks on August 31, 2020 in Tampa, Florida. Photo by Octavio Jones/Getty Images