Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried says Gov. Ron DeSantis‘ executive order banning mask mandates in public schools places a barrier preventing some students with disabilities from returning to school.
Fried, the lone statewide elected Democrat, hosted a high schooler with cerebral palsy Monday to level her latest attack against DeSantis’ handling of the COVID-19 pandemic. That 17-year-old Lake Mary High School junior, JJ Holmes, doesn’t wear a mask because it would impair his ability to type text to speech with his nose on his iPad, his way of speaking.
Most experts agree wearing masks helps prevent people from spreading COVID-19 to others. Holmes says he wants to return to school but can’t because DeSantis banned mask mandates.
“Governor DeSantis is taking away my rights so he can give more freedom to other people,” Holmes said.
Florida is facing two lawsuits over DeSantis’ executive order, including one suit in federal court from a dozen parents of children with disabilities who say the order violates state and federal law by preventing students with disabilities from returning to public schools. After DeSantis’ order, which referred to parents’ rights to determine health and schooling decisions for their children, the Department of Health required school districts to allow parents to opt their children out of mask mandates for any reason.
Circuit Judge John Cooper has called a similar state-level lawsuit an expedited case. If the case goes forward, the court will hold three days of hearings next week.
Holmes says most kids don’t care if they have to wear a mask to go back to school.
“To be honest, a lot of kids feel like Governor DeSantis is just kind of using us. It’s sad,” he said.
Monday’s virtual press conference was Fried’s latest near-daily COVID-19 briefing, which she started after the pandemic resurged last month with the delta variant. The Agriculture Commissioner is also a Democratic candidate for Governor.
“We have to respect one another. We have to care about each other’s well being. We have to care about others,” Fried said.
Nearly 16,000 Floridians were hospitalized with COVID-19 as of Sunday as several smaller hospitals approached capacity. The Health Department reported 1,071 additional COVID-19 deaths last week, raising the state’s death toll to 40,766.
More pediatric patients have been hospitalized with COVID-19 in recent weeks than in previous waves of the pandemic. Children under 12 aren’t eligible for COVID-19 vaccines.
Holmes said he has made several sacrifices during the pandemic, including not returning to school last year, missing out on a comedy show and not being able to attend his grandmother’s funeral.
“All I have left to give up is my education and my life,” Holmes said.
BACK TO SCHOOL IN FLORIDA
I’m scared @GovRonDeSantis
Do I risk my education
Do I risk my life pic.twitter.com/nxWflegSYX
— JJ Holmes (@JJHoImes) August 10, 2021