Florida Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis’s office on Monday suggested that he may take punitive action against local school district officials if they decide to move forward on requiring masks in their schools for the upcoming academic year.
A small number of school districts in the state are planning to keep or reissue rules on masking and facial coverings, in light of the continued threat that coronavirus poses for the state. Florida is one of the worst hit states in recent weeks, due to the prevalence of the Delta variant of the virus, and leads the nation on a per capita basis in how many of its residents are being hospitalized for COVID per day.
DeSantis, however, issued an executive order last month, forbidding schools from issuing mandates on masking. His order claimed that a set of guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on masking in schools “lacks” scientific backing, despite studies that demonstrate just the opposite, which is that masking has helped to contain the spread of COVID-19.
The penalties for schools defying DeSantis’s order from last month would be monetary. The state board of education, under his orders, “could move to withhold the salary of the district superintendent or school board members,” a statement from the governor’s office said.
DeSantis’s administration has attempted to frame the issue as one concerning the rights of parents.
“Education funding is for the students. The kids didn’t make the decision to encroach upon parents’ rights,” a Twitter post from DeSantis spokeswoman Christina Pushaw read. “So any financial penalties for breaking the rule would be targeted to those officials who made that decision.”
Yet polling from within the state appears to show that most Floridians actually support a return to masking rules for students and school administrators. According to a FloridaPolitics.com poll published last week, 62 percent of residents think masks should be required inside school buildings, while less than 32 percent said they should not be mandated.
The order from DeSantis last month attempting to block school districts from issuing rules on masking may also be illegal — a violation of parents’ rights to have their children attend schools that are safe. A group of parents in Florida, some with children who have pre-existing health conditions that may make them more vulnerable to coronavirus, are suing the governor over his executive order because they believe it goes against a provision in the state Constitution that requires schools to provide a safe place for students to be.
“The Executive Order impairs the safe operation of schools. Students will become sick and potentially die as a result of the failure to follow the mandatory masking requirements” issued by the CDC, the lawsuit from those parents asserts.
Concerns about coronavirus in schools abound, particularly due to the additional dangers that the Delta variant poses to children, as Truthout senior editor and lead columnist William Rivers Pitt noted in a column earlier this week.
“Science has yet to comprehensively answer why Delta appears to affect young people more than the other strains have, but the steadily filling hospital beds stand as testament to the truth of it,” Pitt wrote on Monday.
“We reopened the country too much and too soon,” Pitt added. “Now we wait and see how much the jarring whiplash of that error in judgment will cost us.”