Fear and anger were palpable at the school board meeting in downtown Miami on Aug. 18. A virulent strain of the coronavirus had ravaged the state for most of the summer; since early July the delta variant has sent 1,900 children to hospitals in Florida—more than in any other U.S. state. Within days of classes beginning, at least 20,000 kids and teachers in the state’s five largest school districts had contracted or possibly been exposed to the virus.
Dozens of parents had signed up to speak about a proposal to mandate face masks in school. During the meeting, Franzella Guido Chacon held up a petition supporting a mask order, signed by 11,000 people. “We do not want the start of school in Dade County to become a superspreader [event] like we are seeing throughout Florida,” she said. Outside, more parents held up placards for and against masks as some shouted, “Save our kids!”