CAPE CORAL, Fla. — Governor Ron DeSantis said Friday he will sign an executive order that will give parents the final say-so over whether their children will wear masks during the upcoming school year.
“I want to empower parents to make the best decisions they can for the well-being of their children,” Governor DeSantis said. “Accordingly, I’ll very soon issue an executive order which directs DOH to issue emergency rules protecting the rights of parents on wearing masks for children.”
DeSantis said he was making the move regardless of the guidance issued by the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC recently updated rules saying any children under 12 should wear masks while at school. It was a departure from earlier guidance as the CDC said circumstances had changed as the COVID-19 delta variant continues to spread across the country.
The governor said Floridians will “remain free” to choose “what is best for their families” when it comes to masking and schools.
“In Florida, there will be no lockdown. There will be no school closures. There will be no restrictions and no mandates in the state of Florida,” DeSantis said. “We don’t have mandates and won’t.”
Governor DeSantis cited a Brown University study to back up his position on schools. The governor said the study found there was no correlation between case rates and mandates. Critics of the Brown study said it’s outdated and was centered on smaller communities, where schools reopened earlier in the pandemic.
But the governor didn’t put weight into any of the data saying if it showed something else; there would still be no mask orders.
“Districts that did not require masks last year did not perform differently,” DeSantis said. “Even if the data says something else, that doesn’t mean you mandate.”
The press conference from the governor featured several speakers supporting his position of keeping schools open without masking including multiple parents. The speakers talked about the CDC and public health experts and defying their guidance.
DeSantis said the state would not be opening new testing sites or vaccine sites as there isn’t a need for that because the private sector offered plenty of options for people to get tested or vaccinated across the state.
The Florida Education Association shared this statement on Twitter after the announcement by DeSantis.
Schools should be the safest place in Florida. No matter if we live in urban South Florida, in the rural Panhandle or somewhere in-between, we all want our children to be healthy and safe, and for learning to continue uninterrupted for every child. In a state as large and diverse as Florida, decisions on health and safety will not come in one-size-fits-all solutions, and that is why it is important for the will of the people, as expressed by their locally elected officials, to determine decisions regarding health and safety in schools.
Unfortunately, through his words and actions, Gov. DeSantis has made clear he does not respect the freedom of locally elected officials to do what they feel is best for their communities, based on input from parents, school employees, the available Covid data, and guidance from the medical community and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“Whether it is mandating a pay plan that requires teachers with 15 years of experience to be paid the same as a first-year teacher or telling locally elected officials they cannot enforce recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatrics, Gov. DeSantis continues to think that Tallahassee knows best what all Floridians need. We reject that kind of thinking. Instead, we ask Gov. DeSantis to allow all Florida’s citizens to have a voice by empowering the elected leaders of cities, counties and school districts to make health and safety decisions locally based on their unique needs and circumstances,” said Florida Education Association (FEA) President Andrew Spar.
Instead of focusing on the issues that divide Floridians when it comes to health and safety, we would like to see Gov. DeSantis lead on the issues where we all can agree. The majority of schools in Florida do not have a school nurse; the student-to-counselor ratio remains far too high for students to get the individual attention and mental health assistance they deserve; students in all corners of the state still attend schools with leaky roofs and unreliable air-conditioning. Right now, Gov. DeSantis could unite all Floridians by championing these health and safety issues.
Between state resources and the $15 billion in federal funds for Covid relief earmarked for education in Florida, we have the funds necessary to make real, meaningful investments to improve the daily health and safety for all Florida’s students while still respecting the freedom of locally elected officials to do what is best for their own communities. It is time for Gov. DeSantis to lead and unite us as Floridians.
In the first four days of this week, Florida reported approximately 59,175 new cases of COVID-19. The CDC’s 7-day moving average for Florida stood at 14,208 as of Wednesday. Projecting out for this week would see the state report more than 100,000 new cases this week, based on the numbers from the CDC.