‘There are consequences;’ Gov. Ron DeSantis tells school districts with mask mandates

Desantis would not elaborate on what consequences school boards could face

THE VILLAGES, Fla. – At an opening of another monoclonal antibody clinic in The Villages Wednesday Gov. Ron DeSantis wielded threats to now 10 of Florida’s largest school districts that have enacted masks mandates, despite the governor’s executive order.

Orange County School Board voted Tuesday night to enact a 60-mask mandate for all students beginning Monday.

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“Those school districts are violating state law and they are overriding parents’ judgment on this,” DeSantis said. “If these entities are going to violate state law and takeaway parents’ rights, obviously the way it works, there are consequences for that and there will continue to be more.”

When asked during the news conference, the governor did not elaborate what the consequences would be, but his office later emailed a response to News 6.

“We can confirm that any district found to be in violation of the state law would be subject to having funds withheld in an amount equal to the salaries of the superintendent and school board members. Possible measures beyond that are still under discussion,” the governor’s office said.

Cases continue to climb in classrooms across Central Florida. The rise in COVID-19 cases leading to Celebration K-8 School in Osceola County to close and transition to digital learning for the rest of the week.

Data from the Orange County Public Schools Dashboard also shows Monday set the record for the highest number of cases ever recorded in a single day since the beginning of the pandemic, with 419 total cases -- 382 in students.

According to data from last school year, the highest number reported in a single day was 125 cases. That’s when masks were mandated in the classroom.

News 6 presented this data to DeSantis Wednesday.

“How do you know they weren’t wearing masks?” DeSantis challenged. “To attribute that to the mask, you don’t even know they are getting infected in school and in fact, the evidence is they are much more likely to get infected in the community and at home than in the classroom.”

According to Orange County School Data in the COVID-19 procedures manual, some schools are seeing up to 30% of students opting out of masks, like Windermere Elementary School for example with 30.8% of students opting out.

“We trust people to make their own decision in this state,” DeSantis said. “We are not going to be bludgeoning people with restrictions and mandates and lockdowns it hasn’t worked, obviously. It has immense cost to society, so you are going to be able to make those decisions for yourself and our job is to protect your right to make the decision for yourself.”

Due to the now highly contagious delta variant, the CDC recommends universal masking for all students and staff despite vaccination status.

“Many schools serve children under the age of 12 who are not eligible for vaccination at this time. Therefore, this guidance emphasizes implementing layered prevention strategies (e.g., using multiple prevention strategies together consistently) to protect students, teachers, staff, visitors, and other members of their households and support in-person learning,” the CDC website reads.