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Ahead of Pence Visit, Florida Legislators and Teachers Hold Trump Admin. Accountable for Reckless COVID-19 Response

Today, ahead of Mike Pence’s visit to Miami, Congresswoman Donna Shalala (FL-27), State Senator José Javier Rodríguez (SD-37), State Representative Javier Fernández (HD-114), Karla Hernández-Mats, president of United Teachers of Dade, Jessica Harringon, Tampa teacher, and Keegan Schlake, Orlando teacher, joined a virtual press conference to highlight the Trump administration’s failure to take the basic action needed to quell the coronavirus pandemic in advance of a vaccine, and their reckless demand that schools fully reopen or risk federal funding.

Mike Pence has visited the Sunshine State throughout the crisis, consistently using his soapbox to downplay the threat of the virus and spin the Trump and DeSantis administrations’ inadequate response that has left Florida a the global coronavirus hotspot. Last time he was in Florida for a public appearance, Pence misrepresented the state of the COVID-19 outbreak so severely that one prominent medical expert referred to it as “obvious propaganda.”

Highlights from the call:

Congresswoman Donna Shalala (FL- 27)

“Vice President Pence needs to answer questions for Floridians about the lack of testing supplies, about pushing our meek governor to reopen too soon that resulted in lives unnecessarily lost, [about] failing our seniors who are dying in record numbers in our nursing homes — and finally about the subject that we’re talking about today — recklessly demanding that we reopen our schools without proper safety precautions and without the resources they need to get ready when it’s possible to reopen schools…”

State Senator José Javier Rodríguez (SD- 37)

“We’re in a state where we’ve had over 100 deaths for the fifth day in a row. The needs of students, teachers, parents, our community have to be put front and center — and instead the Trump circus is in town: they’ve sent us Pence here to Florida yet again.”

State Representative Javier Fernández (HD-114)

“The Vice President’s visit is just a mere distraction, trying to highlight what they think is a hail mary approach to dealing with this crisis by finding a vaccine instead of doing the hard work and taking care of the basics that are absolutely essential to get this pandemic under control.”

Karla Hernández-Mats, president of United Teachers of Dade and special education teacher

“Three months later when we’re seeing that we are the epicenter of the nation here in Miami-Dade, we see that there is still no national strategy. We’re seeing long wait lines to get tested. We’re seeing that there is no contact tracing. And yet, there is this absurd pressure to reopen our schools, under unsafe conditions. What is even more startling is that we have a president, and a secretary of education, that are threatening to cut much needed public education funds if we don’t reopen five days a week, brick and mortar…”

[…] “We want to be incubators of knowledge, not incubators of a virus.”

Keegan Schlake, Orlando high school teacher

“So like every other teacher, I’m dying to go back to the classroom, but I don’t want to die going back to the classroom.”

“Now as teachers, we’re being told that ‘we don’t want guidelines from the CDC to be the reason why schools don’t reopen.’ Why not? Nonpartisan evaluations based on scientific evidence is what they do.”

Jessica Harrington, Tampa middle school teacher, candidate for HD-64

“We have seen a complete lack of leadership from Governor DeSantis and this White House — they have been in complete lockstep on not taking this virus seriously. We could have prevented a lot of these rising cases, if he would have just issued a mask order…but instead we have seen a rush to reopen our state too fast, putting lives in danger, and now we have school districts scrambling with this reopen mandate.

“Look, we all want to get back to normal, we want to be back at school with our students learning in a safe environment, but we also must be realistic…”