By Drake Buckman
Editors note: A version of this column has run in the Sarasota Herald-Tribune. It is reworked slightly and published here with permission from the author.
This past week, 80,000 Sarasota parents will have to make one of the most difficult decisions of their lives.
On Aug. 31, 43,000 children in Sarasota County began school; 2,700 teachers will be required to teach them. Over 5,000 staff members were called in, supporting the whole enterprise. Our Republican governor is sending them all back, for money.
On July 9, Ron DeSantis explained his calculation: Keeping students at home will prevent Florida’s economy from restarting because parents won’t be able to return to work. He has downplayed the obvious risk, falsely stating that children are “at almost zero risk” for contracting the infection. According to his administration’s Department of Health pediatric virus report, 39,375 children in Florida have tested positive for COVID-19, resulting in seven deaths. How many Sarasota parents are willing to have their children infected for the benefit of the Florida economy? How many are willing to have their children die?
Those are the questions that haunt my friends and neighbors. These questions are the product of a broken government unable to plan, unable to lead, and most unforgivable of all, willing to sacrifice our children and grandchildren to the wishful thinking of the Republican Party in an election year.
The world has seen this before. In the 13th century, the kings of Europe had a problem. They had spent almost a hundred years fighting the Muslim Saracens over ownership of Jerusalem, with little success. Out of ideas, the kings encouraged European parents to send their children on a crusade, promising the children would miraculously be spared. They told the parents although a few might die, it was important that their children march on Jerusalem, to save civilization, and their souls. The parents reluctantly complied. Approximately 30,000 children were killed, died, or sold into slavery along the way.
We now have a new Children’s Crusade, and the results will be just as predictable. According to the CDC, 97.5% of the people infected with COVID-19 will exhibit symptoms within 11.5 days. If school starts Aug. 31, the first wave of infection will occur around Sept. 12. The infection rate in Florida between children ranged on average from 13.4% to 14.4% between July 16 and 24, according to the Department of Health.
Let’s assume the best-case scenario: By Sept. 15, approximately 4,000 children in Sarasota will be infected. The second wave, infecting parents, grandparents and caretakers, will begin approximately Sept. 30. Schools will close again.
The death of even one of our children from preventable COVID-19 is an obscenity.
It does not have to be this way. The governor and Republican leaders have had six months to acquire the resources needed to protect our children, and construct a plan to safely allow our children to return to school. They have failed.
DeSantis went to Harvard and Yale. He knows very well what this pandemic requires: in every school, nurses armed with rapid test kits that can determine within 30 minutes whether a child has tested positive. He knows money needs to be spent to hire and train thousands of contact tracers, who can track the spread of the virus from child to child, from teacher to parent.
We are speaking, of course, of basic, fundamental leadership. Leadership that provides millions of testing kits. Leadership that provides facts to parents to provide a measure of comfort that their child, on that day, is virus-free and attending school with uninfected staff and students.
Everyone wants children enrolled in schools and for the economy to be open. But it is up to the government, not the citizens, to come up with a comprehensive safety plan and the funds to implement it.
We will never experience this leadership from this governor, or our elected Republican leaders, for their dear leader, President Donald Trump, has decreed our children must bear this crusade, so an election may be won.
When you drop off your children at school, remember: It matters who you vote for. Elections have consequences.
Remember this feeling in November.
Drake Buckman is an attorney in Sarasota and the Democratic candidate for state representative in House District 72.