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The ‘Terrible Trickle Down’ Of School COVID Protocols

Nine-year-old Landen Sapien started off fourth grade this year with a lot of hope—at first, anyway. His school was one of few in Florida with a mask mandate, after the Hillsborough County School Board defied the Governor’s order that there would be no masking in schools. But amid Supreme Court battles as the first few weeks of school unfolded, his classmates stopped wearing them. Landen says he was disappointed, because no masks meant it would be unsafe for him to go to school, which makes him feel frustrated and sad. 

In June 2019, Landen was diagnosed with T-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia (T-ALL), which requires three-and-a-half years of chemotherapy.  “I want the world to know that I’ve been through so much,” says Landen. “I have leukemia. I’ve waited so long to be able to get to a safe part of my treatment to go out, and then COVID came.” When people stopped masking, he couldn’t do the things he’d been waiting to do—including going to school in person.

There is no hybrid option—rotating groups of students attending school in-person some days, and online on others—either, Landen’s mother, Amy Sapien, explains. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis made it a statewide rule that schools reopen fully in person at least five days a week for all students. Landen can’t be in the state’s hospital/homebound or virtual school options, because they are both full with students on waiting lists. 

There are still no good options.