ORLANDO, Fla. – In the days leading up to the start of the school year, many school districts in Florida are reevaluating mask policies as the state — along with other parts of the country — is seeing a surge in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations.
The discussions on masks in schools reemerged last week following updated guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that recommended vaccinated individuals to wear masks indoors and that masks should also be worn in school settings, regardless of vaccination status.
Last week, Gov. Ron DeSantis also signed an executive order, banning mandates and reinforcing a parent’s right to choose whether their child wears a mask in school.
The governor’s office told News 6 it is working with the state departments of education and health to finalize rules for school districts regarding masks.
“We are finalizing health and education emergency rules this week that do not prohibit masks in schools but will require parents to have the right to opt their children out. School districts will be expected to allow parents to make this choice,” the statement said.
With the parameters of the executive order still up in the air, school districts are varying in their actions for the upcoming school year. The executive order threatens to cut funding to school districts that do not comply.
The school board in Duval County, home to Jacksonville, moved forward with masks for the upcoming school year with the option for parents to opt their child out of the requirement while the school board in Alachua County, north of Marion County, voted to make face coverings mandatory for students during the first two weeks of school. On the other hand, the Broward County School Board announced it is “awaiting further guidance” on the executive order for its mask mandate, which was unanimously approved.
In Orange County, the school district announced Wednesday it would require its employees to wear masks for at least 30 days inside facilities or vehicles and while they are in the presence of another person.
Seminole County Public Schools will also require all employees to wear masks.
“This extra layer of mitigation will provide some protection to employees and students as we continue to monitor community trends in consultation with medical experts,” Superintendent Barbara Jenkins said in a video update.
President Joe Biden has called out Republican leaders, including DeSantis, on their response to the surge in cases and that they should “get out of the way” of vaccine rules that are aimed to help contain the coronavirus delta variant. The governor responded to Biden’s comments, reiterating that Florida is a free state and parents have the right to make their own decisions about their families and their children’s education.
“If you’re coming after the rights of parents in Florida, I’m standing in your way. I’m not going to let you get away with it,” DeSantis said. “If you’re trying to deny kids a proper in-person education, I’m going to stand in your way.”
The governor also doubled down that the state would not impose any business restrictions or mask mandates as he expects increasing cases and hospitalizations to subside in the next couple of weeks.