Florida Governor Ron DeSantis took a firm stand against mask mandates in schools today as he issued an executive order directing the Florida Department of Education and Department of Health to issue emergency rules protecting the rights of parents to decide whether their children will mask up or not when the school year begins in a few weeks.
This announcement came at the end of a week in which COVID-19 hospitalizations statewide neared record levels of 10,179 set on July 23, 2020. According to the Florida Hospital Association, about 8,900 patients were hospitalized on Wednesday, an increase of 1,845 over a month ago.
Despite this surge, the Governor did not waiver in his determination to keep schools and the Florida economy open.
“There’s a movement to try to impose more restrictions on the American people,” DeSantis said at a Cape Coral press conference today, “and I just want to say in Florida, there will be no lockdowns. There will be no school closures, there will be no restrictions and no mandates and the state of Florida.
He continued, “Floridians are, and will remain, free to choose what’s best for themselves and their families and we will protect their right to work. We will protect the right of businesses to operate and we will protect the right of our kids to attend school in person.”
He stressed that even as he will not force parents to mask their children, he will also not force parents to send their children to school without masks, if they determine it’s the best decision for their family.
The Governor firmly believes the decision to mask children or not should be left to the parents, not government officials.
DeSantis cited a new study by Brown University which showed no significant difference between COVID cases in schools where masks are mandated and where they are not. In fact, New York actually had higher cases with schools mandating masks, compared to schools in Florida where it was up to the parents.
“We clearly know, based off last year, that those mask mandates in schools had virtually no impact on the overall shape of the viral curves that happen on a seasonal basis. And so the CDC’s position is that every single student, every single staff member, every single teacher must be wearing a mask as all times, even though CDC’s own estimate in March was that 41 percent of K through 12 students had already recovered from COVID.
“By not looking at things like this Brown study, it really shows a callous disregard for the physical emotional and academic well-being of our children,” he said.
Many Florida school districts, like in Leon County, have already decided to follow the Governor’s guidance and keep masks optional, but not mandated. A few school districts, like Broward County have voted to require masks.
However, Broward board members are reconsidering.
“If (DeSantis) makes an emergency rule and we are not legally allowed to mandate masks, then we will have to change our policy,” Broward board member Debbi Hixon told the South Florida Sun-Sentinel on Friday. “I am not looking to defy the governor. I believe it is an irresponsible decision but if it is the law, I will agree to follow it.”