Local teachers like Marci Kennison have been scrubbing desks and disinfecting classrooms in preparation of students’ return to school in a little more than a week. The third-grade teacher at S.S. Dixon Intermediate School in Pace is returning to work under unprecedented circumstances due to the ongoing spread of COVID-19.
But despite the real risks that she and her colleagues will face when kids come back, Kennison told the PNJ’s Annie Blanks that she’s up for the challenges. “I’m ready to embrace it because I want to get back to school and get back to the classroom and see my kids,” Kennison said. “And if this is how we have to do it, I’m ready.”
If only Florida’s public officials were as forthright and courageous as the state’s school teachers are.
Contrast Kennison’s resolve with that of Gov. Ron DeSantis, a floundering leader who has been out of his depth for months in handling Florida’s record-breaking numbers of cases and deaths due to the virus. While teachers all over Florida are heading back into their classrooms to confront COVID face to face, the governor hasn’t even been willing to be honest about his own administration’s mismanagement and misinformation regarding the ongoing public health crisis.
Last week, the Palm Beach Post reported that a directive from DeSantis muzzled county health directors from advising local school districts. As reported by the Post’s Andrew Marra:
“Following a directive from DeSantis’ administration, county health directors across Florida refused to give school boards advice about one of the most wrenching public health decisions in modern history: whether to reopen schools in a worsening pandemic, a Gannett USA TODAY NETWORK review found. In county after county the health directors’ refrain to school leaders was the same: Their role was to provide information, not recommendations.”
Health directors in multiple counties (who are physicians in their local communities) said they were instructed by state bureaucrats not to offer direction to their local school districts as to whether schools could safely open.
Regardless of what your opinion is on schools reopening, replacing the knowledge and advice of local medical professionals with top-down directives issued by untrained political appointees is dangerous and unacceptable. Health directors should be empowered to openly advise local governments on matters of public health — whether it’s coronavirus or any other issue.
When questioned about his administration’s muzzling of health directors, DeSantis bumbled out with the false claim that health departments weren’t supposed to serve an advisory role to local school districts. It was an absurd excuse for his decision to subjugate science to big-government political overreach.
As the Post reporting pointed out, health departments regularly advise school districts on everything from threats of mosquito-borne illnesses at football games to testing students during tuberculosis outbreaks. One of the core purposes of a health department is to provide medical advice to citizens and government officials who are not trained in medicine, in order to preserve public health. It doesn’t take a brain surgeon to understand that.
And no doubt, DeSantis certainly knows that such overreach is fundamentally wrong. Had such a directive come from the Obama administration or a liberal governor in order to gag local doctors, DeSantis and his supporters would have been justifiably outraged. Political agendas supplanting public health professionals is simply wrong, no matter what partisan label it carries.
This sort of sorry leadership is especially disappointing in the face of tough and hopeful teachers like Marci Kennison — teachers who are stepping up and putting themselves and their families at real risks of this virus, which still injects so many unknowns into our daily lives.