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‘I feel helpless’: Brevard County family prepares for school year without a mask mandate in place

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Members of the Hosey family spoke with a reporter at Viera Regional Park on Sunday. In the back row are, from the left, Dr. Damani Hosey; his mother, Aisha Hosey; and brother, Jabari Hosey. In the front are Jabari's wife, Nicole Hosey, and son Jalani. Photo: Joe Byrnes, WMFE

Many Central Florida families are struggling with what to do as the first day of school nears and COVID-19 is breaking records in Florida.

One Brevard County family – the Hoseys – has been advocating for the return of universal masking in schools.

But that is not happening.

The Hosey family sat down with me for a conversation.  The family has been of one mind on the COVID-19 pandemic. They take it seriously. They gathered for holidays, not in their homes, but at a pavilion at Viera Regional Park near Melbourne.

And that’s where we meet on a windy Sunday afternoon to talk about their concerns of a new school year with the highly contagious Delta variant surging and no mask mandates.

Last week, Aisha Hosey, her son Dr. Damani Hosey and her daughter-in-law, attorney Nicole Hosey, all pleaded unsuccessfully with the Brevard County School Board to reinstate mandatory mask-wearing.

Some in the community argued against it as a matter of freedom and parental rights.

“We are here to say you will not mandate our children to wear masks anymore,” one speaker said. “Give me liberty or give me death.”

Now the governor has ruled out local mandates anyway.

For Nicole Hosey, universal masking at school is not a theoretical question. In mid-July, her 8-year-old son, Jalani, contracted covid while at summer school.

“After dinner we got ice cream and after we got ice cream I was feeling a little, like, nauseous,” Jalani said. “Then me and my brother were playing soccer outside. Then I came inside and at night my dad came and took my temperature, and it was pretty high.”

“So how did it feel when you had covid?” I asked.

“Bad,” he said.

Thankfully, it was a mild case. His mom blames it on the board’s decision to make mask-wearing optional.

So how does she feel about the situation?

“I’m going to be honest. I’m upset,” she said. “I’m kind of in a position where I don’t really know what to do. I feel helpless, in a sense, because I feel the one thing I know that could be done to help my kids, there’s no way to convince others who are on the other side of this argument – or the board members – the need of it.”

Virtual learning didn’t work for them. So she’s looking for a private or charter school requiring masks.

“But the problem is that the time is ticking,” she said.

Jalani’s uncle, Damani Hosey, has three kids of his own. One is 12. So he’s been vaccinated and will attend school.

“The other two, it was a difficult decision,” he added. “I really want them to be in person. In person learning, I think, is the most effective means to get kids educated. They need that socialization.”

But they’ll be studying from home.

“It’s not optimal,” he said. “But that’s what we’re going to have to do to protect our children.”

As a doctor, he is disappointed. He says universal masking works.

“In order for these masks to be effective, both the person that has the virus and the person that that person is in contact with have to both wear a mask to reduce the probability of spread and infection,” Dr. Hosey said. “You know, it’s just disheartening that this has become such a political football.”

When Jalani got sick, his grandmother says she stayed home and cried. She says people feel powerless to protect their children.

She wrapped up our conversation: “The governor is saying, ‘This is the way it’s gonna be.’ That’s not a democracy. That’s not what this country is built on. That’s not what we’re used to. And that’s not what we need right now. “

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Joe Byrnes

About Joe Byrnes


Joe Byrnes came to WMFE/WMFV from the Ocala Star-Banner and The Gainesville Sun, where he worked as a reporter and editor for several years. Joe graduated from Loyola University in New Orleans and turned to journalism after teaching. He enjoys freshwater fishing and family gatherings.