Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, pictured here on June 24, has barred school districts in the state from imposing requirements for students and staff to weak masks to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. File Photo By Gary I Rothstein/UPI` | License Photo
Aug. 13 (UPI) -- Four teachers in South Florida have died of COVID-19 in the span of three days amid a major surge in cases statewide and a growing political fight by the state's governor against mask requirements in schools.
Three teachers and an assistant teacher in Broward County all died within a 24-hour period earlier this week, the Broward Teachers Union said.
Broward County, the state's second-most populous county, is home to Fort Lauderdale and part of the Miami metropolitan area. It borders Miami-Dade County, the state's most populated county, to the north.
The teachers' deaths occurred just days before county schools will begin classes and as some school officials in the state are butting heads with Gov. Ron DeSantis over his order prohibiting mask mandates in public schools in Florida.
The Broward County board recently defied DeSantis' order, which came with a threat to withhold pay to schools that do not comply.
"It really hits because we've been in this conversation about masking up in schools; our own elected governor acting like masks are not necessary," Broward Teachers Union President Anna Fusco said, according to WTVJ-TV.
Fusco said the union learned of the teachers' deaths on Wednesday when educators returned to classes to prepare for the start of the school year next week. She said at least three of the four teachers who died were not vaccinated, but had recently been cleared to receive the shot.
"It's right here in our face," Fusco said, according to WTVJ-TV. "We know people. We're seeing it. We're feeling it. We're living it.
"You can't say anything else than say this is real and we still all have to do our part."
The Broward County board voted 8-1 this week to maintain a mask mandate for students, staff and visitors. Florida's health department had previously said school districts must allow parents to opt-out of the mask mandates.
In Leon County, Circuit Judge John Cooper was scheduled to hear a lawsuit on Friday filed by parents from several large districts who are asking the court to reject DeSantis' ban on mask mandates in schools.
The plaintiff parents argue in the suit that DeSantis' order violates the part of Florida's constitution that gives supervisory authority exclusively to local school boards.