The following is a transcript of an interview with Dr. Rosalind Osgood, Broward County School Board chair, that aired on Sunday, August 15, 2021, on “Face the Nation.”
NANCY CORDES: Now to the escalating battle over masks in schools. More than 40 school boards in five Texas counties are defying the governor’s mask mandate. And in Florida, school districts in at least two counties are doing the same. So we’re going to go now to Dr. Rosalind Osgood, she’s the chair of the Broward County School Board to hear more from her. Good morning.
BROWARD COUNTY SCHOOL BOARD CHAIR DR. ROSALIND OSGOOD: Good morning.
NANCY CORDES: I want to ask you why you and your school board decided to go ahead and vote to impose a mask mandate in your school district where kids are set to go back to school on Wednesday? And are you heartened to see that so many other school districts are doing the same thing?
DR. OSGOOD: Well, eight out of the nine of us on our school board decided to protect the lives of our students and staff at all costs. We believe in science. We’re living out the nightmare of the COVID pandemic, where so many people in our county, including members of our staff and others, are being impacted. We have lost three teachers to- I’m sorry, two teachers and one ESP to COVID, others are hospitalized. And we believe that we have a constitutional obligation to protect the lives of our students and staff. And we’ve received threats from our governor. And it’s been really, really dramatic and horrible to be put in this position. But at the end of the day, lives are invaluable and we have to make sure that we use the tools that we can to mitigate the damage of this pandemic. We know that we want everybody to be vaccinated, but that’s not the reality. As local school boards, we don’t believe we have the authority. We are investigating it legally to mandate vaccinations for staff. And we know we certainly can’t do it for students. So when you have a population of about 50 plus thousand of students that are 12 and under that don’t have an option for vaccinations, you have staff with pre-existing conditions, you have children that have medical conditions, we believe that masks is a tool that will help us mitigate the spread of COVID. When you bring students and staff into a classroom environment, a school bus environment, we have to protect them at all costs.
NANCY CORDES: And yet, because you are taking that step, the governor is threatening to withhold your pay. He’s threatening to fine the school district thousands of dollars. You’ve been in touch with Biden administration officials in the past 24 hours. I know the president himself called your school superintendent. What is the administration telling you about how they will make you whole if the governor makes good on this threat?
DR. OSGOOD: Yeah, I had a conversation with Mary Wall the senior policy adviser for the White House COVID pandemic task force on yesterday. And President Biden also had the secretary of education, Dr. Miguel Cardona send a letter to our governor stressing their support of mandating masks at the reopening of school and also indicating that they would allow us to use our ESSER dollars, that’s our Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Funds to replace our salaries if necessary. It was very encouraging to get the support of the White House during this very, very difficult time that we find ourselves in. You know, we’ve worked, our staff has worked. Dr. Antoine Hickman, who is the chief of student support services, Dr. Jermaine Fleming, who is the chief of strategy operations, and Dr. Leo Nesmith, who is the chief of security and disaster preparedness, have worked with their staff to put in all kinds of protocols to keep our students safe. We have a partnership with the Department of Health where we will be able to offer testing on-site with parental consent for any child that shows symptoms of COVID. We will have opportunities for vaccination. We vaccinated a lot of our staff. So we’ve worked to put in air quality control systems and we feel very strongly that we can bring all our students back safely. And keep in mind, because of the close environment, we cannot practice six feet of social distancing. But all of the other protocols that we put in place to ensure their safety, we believe, will allow us to provide them with physical safety as well as mental health support. Because we saw that during the time that our children were at home, suicide rates increased. Their social-emotional learning dropped off, and it impacted them dramatically when it relates to education. And we saw that in their test scores.
NANCY CORDES: Right.
DR. OSGOOD: So we’ve been working extremely hard to put things in place and we’re not going to risk their lives by allowing masks to be optional.
NANCY CORDES: Right, well, doctor, we know that everyone hopes that kids can remain in school this school year. So thank you for everything you’re doing to make that happen. And thank you so much for coming on FACE THE NATION today.
DR. OSGOOD: Thank you,
NANCY CORDES: And we’ll be right back.