15 Dead at Miami Dade Schools
Over the past two weeks 15 school employees have died from COVID
Two weeks ago, teachers in Miami-Dade County returned to school. At the time, cases were surging in the state and the district was fighting with the Governor over mandating masks in the school. Since then, fifteen unvaccinated employees of the district have died from COVID-19, prompting the district’s teachers union to take action.
To protect their members, United Teachers of Dade has set up pop-up vaccination sites around the county to encourage their members and the community to get a shot. The sites provide all three approved vaccines, including the two-shot Pfizer and Moderna vaccine, and the one-shot Johnson and Johnson. Pfizer is approved for everyone 12 and older while Moderna and Johnson and Johnson are approved for everyone 18 and over. The first pop-up site will be held on Tuesday.
“As we continue to mourn the tragic loss of our union brothers and sisters to COVID last week, we believe it is now our duty to honor Mr. Coleman, Mrs. Smith, and Mr. Thomas, three incredible laborers who served our community,’’ said UTD President Karla Hernandez-Mats in a statement. “As educators, we want to ensure that people have access to the information and the resources they need to get vaccinated and hopefully, spare other families from the terrible effects of this virus.”
The employees that died include teachers, bus drivers, cafeteria workers, and security monitors, according to the union. One of the teachers who died, Mrs. Lillian Smith, was a local union steward who taught at William A. Chapman Elementary in Miami-Dade County for more than 30 years. American Federation of Teachers (AFT) President Randi Weingarten toured the school last week to talk to the students about their teacher and to support the school’s efforts to mask up this year. Weingarten told Reuters that Florida is "a place where you have a governor who is more concerned about his political aspirations than the safety and the wellbeing of the people he was elected to serve."
Miami Dade County currently has a 9.75% COVID rate and reported 12,080 new cases over the past seven days. The county has about 68% of the eligible population fully vaccinated, but only about 50% of 12–19-year old’s are vaccinated. At the same time, the 12 and under age group’s positivity rate is 17% statewide with the 12-19 age group accounting for a 21% positivity rate. Both are the highest positivity by age group in the state.
The increasing positivity rate among children makes it even more important for teachers and school staff to get the shot. Being unvaccinated not only puts them at risk of catching the virus from a child, but it also puts the kids at risk as those 12 and under are not yet eligible to get the vaccine.
Since the school year has started, bigger districts like Miami-Dade and Broward County have defied the Governor’s order against mask mandates, while smaller districts have fallen in line, over threats of the loss of state funding if they required masks. This has led to numerous shutdowns of schools with some districts like Okaloosa County Schools reporting over 1,000 student COVID cases in the last month and Escambia County Schools having to put over 1,600 students in quarantine. The numbers are even larger in Hillsborough County where 10,000 students and staff were placed in quarantine just a week into school.
With no masking or vaccination rules, teachers in Florida will continue to be casualties of the fight over masks and vaccines.