Lee County Schools stand by mask mandate as child COVID-19 cases climb
Image via Lee County Schools.

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When a judge ruled Gov. DeSantis' mask order illegal, the district enacted a no-opt-out mandate.

The school district where Gov. Ron DeSantis announced his mask mandate ban maintains its own requirement follows the law.

A week ago, the Department of Education sent a letter to Lee County Schools announcing an investigation into officials going against DeSantis’ executive order. But school districts say their own requirement, which only allows parents to opt children out with a medical release, went into effect after a court rejected DeSantis’ rule.

“In that decision, the court found that Executive Order 21-175 was null, void, unconstitutional and unenforceable. Judge (John) Cooper also ruled that per the Parents’ Bill of Rights statute, school districts could enact policies regarding health care and education that are necessary and reasonable to achieve a compelling state interest so long as it is narrowly tailored,” a letter from the district to Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran reads.

The letter, signed by School Board Chair Debbie Jordan and acting Superintendent Kenneth Savage, went out the same day Lee Health announced deaths for COVID-19 patients in the local hospital system had surpassed 1,000.

Lee County has often found itself in the middle of news about the pandemic. The first fatality from the disease in Florida was a Lee County woman who died at Gulf Coast Medical Center on March 5, 2020.

Regarding the mask mandate, DeSantis in July announced his order forbidding school districts from mandating masks this school year. After the Board of Education said any district violating that order would be effectively violating the law, the School Board demurred and put in place a mandate with a no-questions-asked opt-out for parents.

But after Judge Cooper ruled in favor of parents who said the rule compromised the health of their children, Savage announced a short-term mandate allowing students to opt out only if they documented a medical reason.

In the letter to the state, school officials cited both a high positivity rate for testing in the county and a jump in cases among students.

“Lee Health issued a COVID-19 update on August 24, 2021, where Dr. Larry Antonucci, President and CEO of Lee Health Systems, the largest health care system in our area, stated that they are seeing an increase in the number of children with COVID-19. Dr. Antonucci stated that Golisano Children’s hospital emergency department saw 265 patients the day prior, which is more than double what they would normally see, and of those patients 135 had COVID-19 symptoms.”

As of Tuesday, 14 children with COVID-19 were being treated as inpatients at Golisano, the pediatric hospital within the Lee Health network.

“Since the start of the pandemic we have had instructional and support staff be hospitalized and die of COVID-19 complications. Many staff are afraid and many have also quit their positions, including approximately 20 bus drivers, due to a lack of masking requirement,” the letter from the district states.

“We also have children hospitalized as a result of the delta variant. Many parents have voiced tremendous fear over the risks to their children who are unable to be vaccinated. We have received thousands of emails pleading for the safest learning environment possible to protect children with autoimmune conditions, those recovering from cancer, and those with medically compromised loved ones in the family unit.”

Jacob Ogles

Jacob Ogles has covered politics in Florida since 2000 for regional outlets including SRQ Magazine in Sarasota, The News-Press in Fort Myers and The Daily Commercial in Leesburg. His work has appeared nationally in The Advocate, Wired and other publications. Events like SRQ’s Where The Votes Are workshops made Ogles one of Southwest Florida’s most respected political analysts, and outlets like WWSB ABC 7 and WSRQ Sarasota have featured his insights. He can be reached at [email protected]


8 comments

  • PeterH

    September 8, 2021 at 1:50 pm

    News Bulletin

    A Florida judge ruled against Gov. Ron Desantis on Wednesday and allowed schools in the state to mandate face-masks while the case is appealed at a higher level.

    The ruling from Second Circuit Judge John Cooper, effective immediately, means the state of Florida must stop enforcement of banning mask mandates — which ends sanctions against several school districts who have implemented such mandates.

    Next up ….. vaccine passports for restaurants, hotels, cruise ships and entertainment venues.

    DeSantis can appeal but in the past seven days 250,000 CHILDREN have tested positive for Covid. Pediatric hospitals are overwhelmed.

    DeSantis, Trump, Noem and Abbott are America’s top leaders of Republican Bobby Jindal’s “Party of Stupids”

    Reply

  • Alex

    September 8, 2021 at 2:11 pm

    Nobody is forcing you to get vaccinated righties.

    Just don’t expect to be able to go places where you can endanger others.

    Simple, and fair.

    Reply

  • Robert Thompson

    September 8, 2021 at 5:25 pm

    The Constitution is never suspended. People on all sides fight for our rights to be free people. This is ridiculous and I will expose the truth. I worked in Infectious Disease Control for 15 years, MASKS DO NOT PREVENT VIRUSES. Masks actually cause more harm than good. In 1917 the CDC & Dr. Fauci have went on record saying that the #1 cause of death was from dirty masks (bacterial pnemonia). My wife almost died of this when she too wouldn’t listen. She does now and My daughter who is a strong supporter of shots and masks, agrees with me and now We are all exempt. It should never be political. Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness are all impacted by these Draconian orders. Did you know that right now the death rate on the CDC site for Lee County is 1.6% with the caveat that they don’t know if those people died from Covid or their underlying conditions? We accidentally killed people in the beginning when the people at the top made the decisions they did. We now know how to treat effectively. Masks only stop 3%, and viruses come through your eyes too. This is why it even says on the box they don’t work against viruses. I promise you no Dr. will go with me into an infectious disease area of the hospital with that ineffective placebo mask. Do some research people, stop being ignorant. Covid is real, I argue it’s not a deadly pandemic, but it’s a free country.and you can wear that mask if you like, but you can’t tell me I need that or the SHOT because it’s not a Vacinne, in order to be free. Nope not happening on my watch. Ask my Dr at Millenium. Ask the Lee County School Board. Ask the military, police, firefighers, and EMS that I support if I speak the Truth!

    Reply

    • Alex

      September 8, 2021 at 5:51 pm

      Wow.

      What load of crap that was.

      I want that 60 seconds of my life back please.

      Reply

      • PeterH

        September 8, 2021 at 5:57 pm

        Alex …. may god have mercy on the stupids who post on this web site! I often wonder if some of these new name arrivals are posting from China or Russia….. it’s hard to believe that there are this many crazies!

        Reply

        • JD

          September 9, 2021 at 7:42 am

          I imagine some (but not all – people are bold behind a keyboard) of peoples convictions and rants would end if there was commenter verification.

          In line with the Russian and Chinese commentators, how many are shills for party research firms, PR agencies and lobbyists? Or the site itself ?

          I still think most of the stories from the local reporters follow decent journalism and try to be unbiased, contrary to want the ranting individuals say when it doesn’t align with their sides agenda.

          Reply

  • PeterH

    September 8, 2021 at 5:48 pm

    You’re a liar! ….. and you have plenty of ignorant crackpots on this site to join you in your march toward stupid.

    “ MASKS DO NOT PREVENT VIRUSES. Masks actually cause more harm than good.”

    Workers in hospitals, dental offices, nursing stations and even Vet hospitals have been wearing face coverings FOR DECADES. They’re not wearing them because the don’t work!

    End your FAKE NEWS RANT!

    Reply

  • Jane

    September 11, 2021 at 12:25 pm

    Totally against mandates. Let stupid people die, I love covid, there’s a reason Florida is literally killing it in covid deaths. LET THEM DIE! The world needs less stupid people.

    Reply

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