Appeal for DeSantis to end mask debate continues

Rev. Julius McAllister

By St. Clair Murraine
Outlook staff writer

There were moments when it seemed the group of ministers and community leaders were having church. However, for most of the nearly 40 minutes that they spoke with reporters it was clear that they stood against Gov. Ron DeSantis’ executive order to ban school districts from requiring children to wear masks.

The call comes at a time when infections and hospitalizations are increasing locally and throughout the state. Both hospitals in Tallahassee reported seeing increasing cases in their COVID units.

The urgency to call on DeSantis was driven home a day before the press conference last Tuesday at Bethel Missionary Baptist Church, when the principal at Canopy Oaks Elementary School announced the death of a third-grader.

Neither the child’s family nor the school disclosed the cause of death but Tallahassee Memorial Healthcare reported the death of two children, one under 5 and the other 5 to 12 years old.

DeSantis issued an executive order on July 30 banning school districts from requiring masks for children. 

“My beloved governor must reconsider,” said Rev. RB Holmes, chairman and organizer of the Statewide Coronavirus Vaccination Community Education and Engagement Task Force.  “This is a state of emergency.”

Holmes added: “We stand with our local officials in this county and across the state to have the capacity and courage to go against an unfair executive order.”

A few days later, education officials won a challenge of the executive order in court. Leon County Circuit Judge John Cooper issued an injunction that would prevent, Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran, the State Board of Education and the state Department of Education from enforcing DeSantis’ order.

Leon County is one of 10 districts that defied the governor’s order by taking a stand for children to wear mask. The exceptions were those who have medical reasons.

While a vaccine hasn’t been developed for children under age 12, federal health officials have recommended masks in those cases. Retired pediatrician Dr. Alfreda Blackshear, who was at the press conference, issued a statement against the governor’s order ahead of meeting with the media.

“The coronavirus has demonstrated that it has no respect for age as demonstrated by the rising number of children affected and hospitalized,” Blackshear’s statement said.  “They deserve the best line of defense that can be provided other than vaccines.  A universal mask mandate in all schools where all students, teachers and staff with only medical exemptions would provide that line of protection.”

Prior to the ruling by Judge Cooper, DeSantis vowed to withhold the salaries of superintendents in the districts that defied his order. That said, Mutaqee Akbar, president of the local chapter of the NAACP, is bullying and political.

“Governor DeSantis, stop being a bully,” an obviously infuriated Akbar said at the press conference. “Stop putting politics before our children and do the right thing; follow the science.”

Akbar has a 4-year-old son who isn’t in the school system yet, but said his concern is for all children.

 “It upsets me because we know it’s all about politics,” he said. “To play politics with our children would be ridiculous. There is no place for it at all so it bothers me.” 

Other speakers included City Commissioners Dianne Williams-Cox and Curtis Richardson, County Commissioners Rick Minor and Carolyn Cummings, along with Mayor John Dailey.

Rev. Julius McAllister of Bethel AME Church used scriptures and the lyrics of a famous children’s song written by George Frederick Root to send the message to the governor. He repeatedly made the point that children are “our greatest investment,” saying that it’s a “holy nudge” that led the group to stand up for children.

Then, he went to the lyrics made famous by Root.

“Red and yellow, Black and White, they are precious in his sight because Jesus loves the little children of the world.”

Pastors Judy Mandrell and Joe Paramore used more practical terms to express their concern.

Paramore, who is affiliated with Faith in Public Life, compared the need for masks to the mandate for car seats and booster seats for children’s safety. He also referenced Florida’s 2009 enactment of a mandatory seat belt law.

“Why,” he asked before answering rhetorically, “because research and science prove that car seats, booster seats and seat belts save lives.”

Mandrell, co-pastor at Life Changers Church of God, compared DeSantis’ order to Russian Roulette.

“Why play with one bullet in a game to kill a child,” she asked.  “That’s what we are doing. Please, sir. Don’t pull the trigger and allow another child to be killed.”

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