This year’s sold-out South Florida Hispanic Women of Distinction Awards ceremony — a September 10 charity gala recognizing a dozen South Floridians for their contributions as civic leaders and public servants — honored included a slate of women who toil in fields such as public health, philanthropy, and education.
Melinda Akiti (Vice President of Ambulatory and Community Service at Memorial Healthcare System in Broward); Jaene Miranda (President of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Palm Beach); and Dr. Omaida Velazquez (Chair of the Department of Surgery at University of Miami Miller School of Medicine).
Also on the list: Lubby Navarro, a member of the School Board of Miami-Dade County who made headlines when she cast the sole nay vote on August 18 when the board voted 7-1 to implement a mask mandate in the nation’s fourth-largest school district.
According to a press release issued by Miami-Dade County Public Schools on Monday, honorees at the gala were “chosen for their contributions to their community, culture, and public service as Hispanic women who are strengthening the social fabric of this country.” Navarro was recognized for “her role in public service, education, and for her role as a public health advocate.”
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The district’s mask mandate policy would have violated Gov. Ron DeSantis’ executive order banning public schools from implementing their own mask mandates (which has since been nullified). It was also in accordance with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC’s) recommendations for indoor protocols to reduce the spread of the coronavirus. This was after a spike in infections and hospitalizations caused by the Delta variant of the virus that ravaged Miami-Dade and Florida.
Navarro voted against the proposal.
“My constituents of District 7 never elected me to violate state law,” Navarro declared during the August 18 board meeting at which the matter was decided. A week earlier, she’d tweeted, “I do not support masking our children! I stand firm on giving the choice to our parents!”
I do not support masking our children! I will not compromise my belief that our parents have the right to make the decision!
Our parents are the most powerful voice in our public education system.
— Lubby Navarro (@LubbyNavarro) August 11, 2021 Navarro, who was born in Havana and resides in Kendall, was appointed by then-Gov. Rick Scott was elected to fill a vacancy in 2015 and was reelected in 2020. She also serves as vice-president of government affairs at Memorial Healthcare System.
Navarro’s stand against the mask mandate made national headlines and prompted CBS4’s Jim DeFede to point out that while she insistently refers to herself as “Dr. Lubby Navarro, she holds neither a medical degree nor a doctorate from an accredited university. In fact, DeFede noted, her title was bestowed by an institution called the Catholic University of New Spain, which operates on an “invitation only” admissions policy and is located on a single floor of an office building in downtown Miami.
This savage takedown of “Dr.” Lubby Navarro made my morning. Thank you @DeFede. I appreciate proper research👍🏽 pic.twitter.com/p0990HXZRo
— Jennifer (she/her) (@Desa_Jennifer) August 22, 2021 According to a 2020 voters’ guide promulgated by the Miami-based Christian Family Coalition Florida, Navarro also supports prohibiting “biological boys in girls’ bathrooms and locker rooms.”
Organizers of the South Florida Hispanic Women of Distinction Awards tell New Times they were not aware of the controversy surrounding Navarro or her position regarding students and facemasks. The event’s chief organizer, Elaine Vasquez, says the group selected honorees in March and stands by its decision to include Navarro.
“We don’t involve any politics,” Vasquez tells New Times. “It’s really based on community service and how [the honorees] intertwine their culture.”
Reached by phone and email, a spokesperson for the University of Miami Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center, which co-sponsored the festivities and whose inpatient treatment center tends to the needs of vulnerable patients, some of whose diagnoses render them immunocompromised, promised to seek comment from the organization but has not followed up.
The CDC reports that Hispanics are 1.9 times more likely than non-Hispanic whites to be diagnosed with COVID-19. They are also 2.8 times more likely be hospitalized with COVID-19 and 2.3 times more likely die from COVID-19.
Navarro did not return New Times request for comment.