TALLAHASSEE -- In an Aug. 11, 2021 press conference, Florida Commissioner of Agriculture Nikki Fried called on Gov. Ron DeSantis to do more to encourage Floridians to get vaccinated for COVID-19. She also asked him to let the local school boards make the decisions about masks in the classrooms.
“All this money is sitting right now in the state government, that should have been distributed to the school districts,” she said. "It should have been used to help sanitizing our classrooms, making sure there are partitions, adding more portable classrooms to reduce class size, buy more buses, or whatever the school district needed to open the schools more safely.
“Not only has the governor threatened to hold back funding to schools that have made the decision to have a mask mandate, but he is also not releasing money that is necessary, that is needed and should be directed towards our school districts,” she said.
“Many of our schools have started classes,” she said. “Teachers and parents and kids are concerned for their safety. School boards need to be able to make the decisions that are right for their students and faculty."
She said in the districts where parents were required to send written notice that they wished to opt their children of the mask mandate, the majority of parents wanted their children to wear masks. Only 4% opted out in Orange and Duval counties, she added.
Children under the age of 11 have no protection from the COVID-19 virus, she said. “They can’t get this vaccine. All they have is a mask.”
Fried said according to the Florida Education Foundation, there are 5,000 teacher vacancies across the state, which is 40% higher than pre-pandemic.
She said some teachers have decided to take retirement because they do not feel safe in the classroom.
“Letting this virus run rampant and trying to prevent local governments and private companies from taking steps to protect their workers is hurting our economy,” she said. “When a small business owner has five employees, and two get sick with covid, they have to shut down.
“What happens when there is an outbreak in a classroom or in a school. The classroom is shut down. Kids are sent home. What are parents who have to work, what are they supposed to do? This has a huge impact on our economy if we don’t do anything,” she said.
She called on the governor to have the department of health update the covid numbers daily so there is transparency. The state now only releases a weekly summary report, and no longer releases information on covid deaths and hospitalizations by county.
“That data was readily accessible and was given to the people of the state until June,” Fried added.