Florida Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried vows to protect school districts from Gov. Ron DeSantis’ policies during a press conference on Aug. 11, 2021. Source: Screenshot/Florida Channel.
Florida Agriculture and Consumer Affairs Commissioner Nikki Fried vowed Wednesday to leverage her relationship with the White House to protect local school districts facing punishment for going against Gov. Ron DeSantis’ ban on mask mandates for children.
Fried, the only statewide-elected Democrat and 2022 gubernatorial candidate, criticized DeSantis during a news conference for threatening to withhold funds from school districts.
“Not only has the governor threatened to hold back funding to these schools” that are deciding to impose mask mandates, “but he is also not releasing money that is necessary — that has been directed to our school districts,” Fried said.
Fried’s office issued a press release saying that she has been working with the White House to seek solutions for rising COVID-19 cases in the state and provide financial assistance to school districts facing threats of defunding.
As previously reported by the Florida Phoenix, tension between local school boards and the state erupted when DeSantis issued an executive order banning school districts from requiring students to wear masks.
The Republican administration has threatened loss of funding if school districts ignore DeSantis’ orders, even salaries for superintendents and school board members, arguing that parents have the right to decide whether masks are OK for their kids.
In Broward County, for one, school officials are considering suing the governor over his rules.
“Basically, what’s happened is, all this money is sitting right now inside of the governor’s office to be distributed to our school districts … whatever each district was going to need in order to open up their schools safely,” Fried said.
“To all of the school districts out there making these tough decisions, and to our superintendents, we will get your back. The White House will get your back. Unfortunately, the governor is not and is not looking out for the best interest of our children.”
Fried said she is in constant communication with the White House coronavirus task force about a variety of issues, including COVID-19 vaccines, ramping up testing sites, and “working on trying to bring more nurses down” to address staffing shortages in Florida.
In Florida, a hospital executive warned last week that many nurses have left for better paying jobs in other states, while hospitals have seen a spike in patients admitted to ICUs.
“They [the Biden administration] want to be helpful,” Fried said.
Meanwhile, Fried cited a survey by the Florida Education Association that found teacher vacancies across the state, plus school staff vacancies. Due to concerns over the pandemic and lack of safety measures, “teachers have decided to take early retirement, or take a leave of absence,” she said.
The union said in a press release Tuesday that it had counted 4,961 teaching vacancies posted on district websites and 3,753 staff openings. The survey was conducted during the week before Aug. 10.
“They [FEA] are brainstorming to try to find ways to bring more teachers into the fold,” Fried said. “But of course, teachers are scared on COVID and the outbreaks and the fact that we are not doing everything possible to protect them in the classroom.”
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