January 21, 2021
As schools in Florida start their second semester, questions still abound regarding the COVID-19 vaccine. The CDC has included teachers among their list of essential workers who need access to the vaccine first. Governor Ron DeSantis disagrees. As COVID numbers continue to rise to unseen highs, DeSantis has maintained that teachers are not priority for receiving the vaccine.
For the sake of the economy, which has continued to suffer despite his profit-first policies, DeSantis has forced schools open and put teachers on the frontline of the pandemic, while denying them hazard pay and vaccine access. Throughout this school year, teachers have watched in horror as DeSantis demanded schools reopen for face to face instruction. Via a state mandate before the holiday break, more remote students were pushed to return to campuses. DeSantis also implemented a criminally loose quarantine restriction for teachers exposed to COVID. In fact, some districts require teachers to work after being exposed to COVID-19 with “quarantine at work” guidelines.
The Florida Educators Association issued a letter to Governor DeSantis on December 16 urging the governor to prioritize teachers in the distribution of vaccines. One December 31, 2020, the FEA also created a take-action webpage stating:
“One thing everyone can agree on is that students learn best through in-person instruction. This is why the CDC recommends that educators–teachers and staff alike–should have access to the COVID-19 vaccine as soon as possible.
“Unfortunately, Gov. DeSantis has decided to ignore the CDC’s recommended vaccine priority list, choosing to play politics instead.”
The FEA website includes a section to submit your name and address, then be linked to a place to email Governor DeSantis, or to address him via Facebook or Twitter post to demand CDC guidelines for distribution of vaccines for teachers be met. Individual school districts across the state have also issued open letters to DeSantis asking him to reconsider and heed the advice of the CDC.
To date, 24 Florida teachers and staff members have died due to COVID-19, most recently Santa Rosa County School District’s Jeff Larson, age 60, who died on Christmas Day. Tens of thousands of teachers, staff and students have been exposed to COVID-19. Some have shown symptoms, some have not. Both groups are at risk for potential long-term health impacts.
Governor DeSantis dubbed 2020 “The Year of the Teacher,” but when the task of basic protections for teachers arose, he failed them at every turn. DeSantis has continued into 2021 disregarding the needs and feelings of students, educators and their unions and the CDC. In his efforts to protect the capitalist class by pushing more workers into unsafe conditions to maintain an economy built primarily on tourism dollars, dollars that will not come again until this pandemic ends, DeSantis has chosen a losing battle. He has shown he is willing to sacrifice the foundation of the education system.