Several school districts in Florida and Texas are requiring students to wear face coverings despite statewide bans on mask mandates.
What You Need To Know
- Several school districts in Florida and Texas are requiring students to wear face coverings despite statewide bans on mask mandates
- The superintendent of the school district in Tallahassee, Florida, announced Monday that he will require students to wear masks, defying the governor’s attempts to block schools from imposing such a mandate
- Two Florida school districts first stepped up last week to announce that they would follow recommendations from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and require masks when they restart classes later this week
- Meanwhile in Texas, the Austin, Dallas and Houston independent school districts are all requiring masks despite an executive order despite Gov. Greg Abbott’s executive order that bans agencies that receive state dollars from implementing mask mandates
The superintendent of the school district in Tallahassee, Florida, announced Monday that he will require students to wear masks amid an increase in COVID-19 hospitalizations fueled by the delta variant, defying the governor’s attempts to block schools from imposing such a mandate.
Gov. Ron DeSantis’ office responded by saying the state’s Board of Education could move to withhold salaries from the superintendent or school board members. Though the Leon County mandate allows exemptions for students with a physician’s or psychologist’s note, it doesn’t give parents the authority to opt out, as DeSantis wanted.
Leon County Schools Superintendent Rocky Hanna announced in a livestreamed announcement that children from pre-kindergarten through eighth grade will be required to wear masks when classes resume in Tallahassee on Wednesday.
“I did a lot of soul searching, a lot of thinking,” Hanna said. “If, heaven forbid, we lost a child to this virus, I can’t just simply blame the governor of the state of Florida. I can’t.”
Ordered by DeSantis, the Florida Department of Health issued an emergency rule last week saying districts must allow parents to decide whether their children will wear masks. DeSantis' office said in a statement that the Leon County district's new policy “blatantly violates the spirit of the executive order and the rules.”
The superintendent said he had sent a letter to DeSantis asking for permission to enforce a temporary mask mandate, but received no response.
The Republican governor issued an executive order in late July for the education and health departments to come up with ways of punishing school districts that mandate mask-wearing in classrooms. DeSantis maintains that enforcing masks violates parental rights. He cites Florida's new Parents Bill of Rights law that says parents have the freedom to make decisions about their children’s health and education.
Two Florida school districts first stepped up last week to announce that they would follow recommendations from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and require masks when they restart classes later this week. Four others have adopted mask policies since then, and more are having discussions this week. But most have clarified that parents can opt out.
President Biden said Tuesday that the effort to ban mask mandates is "totally counterintuitive and, quite frankly, disingenuous."
"When I suggest that people in zones where there's a high risk wear the mask like you all are doing, I'm told that government should get out of the way and not do that. you don't have the authority to do that," Biden said.
"And I find it interesting that some of the very people who are saying that who hold government positions are people who are threatening that if a school teacher asks a student if they've been vaccinated, or if a principal says that everyone in my school should wear a mask if the school board votes for it, that governor will nullify that," Biden continued. "That governor has the authority to say, 'You can't do that.'
"I find that totally counterintuitive and, quite frankly, disingenuous," Biden said, adding that his administration is checking to see whether or not the federal government has the power to intervene
Earlier Tuesday at a White House news briefing, press secretary Jen Psaki applauded the school districts that are defying DeSantis’ mask-mandate ban.
“I do want to call out the courage and the boldness of a number of leaders in Florida, including in Miami Dade County, people who are stepping up to do the right thing to protect students and keep schools safe and open,” she said. “We are continuing to look for ways … for the U.S. government to support districts and schools as they try to follow the science, do the right thing and save lives.”
Psaki also said Florida has not distributed money it received from the federal government through the American Rescue Plan to help schools during the pandemic.
“So the question is, why not?” she said.
Psaki had a message for DeSantis: “If you're not interested in following the public health guidelines to protect the lives of people in your state, to give parents some comfort as they're sending their kids to school …. then get out of the way and let public officials, let local officials do their job to keep students safe,” she said. “This is serious. And we're talking about people's lives.”
Meanwhile in Texas, the Austin, Dallas and Houston independent school districts are all requiring masks despite an executive order despite Gov. Greg Abbott’s executive order that bans agencies that receive state dollars from implementing mask mandates.
“Governor Abbott’s order does not limit the district’s rights as an employer and educational institution to establish reasonable and necessary safety rules for its staff and students,” Dallas ISD said in a statement.
At a school board meeting Monday night, Austin schools Superintendent Stephanie Elizalde defended the decision, saying: “If I err, I must err on the side of ensuring that we have been overly cautious. Not that we have fallen short."
Arkansas is another state pushing back against bans on mask mandates. Last week, a judge temporarily blocked the state from enforcing its ban on mask mandates after two lawsuits were filed, including one from an east Arkansas school district where more than 900 staff and students are quarantining because of a coronavirus outbreak.
Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson now says he regrets signing the state’s law banning mask requirements. He called a special session for lawmakers to consider rolling back the law, but the Legislature left the prohibition in place.
Florida and Arkansas rank in the top four states per-capita with new COVID-19 infections, while Texas ranks 11th.
Back in Florida, Jennifer Ellis, a mother of two sons in Broward County, said many parents are scared about their children getting infected and are now struggling with what to do. She said she worries about her unvaccinated 11-year-old boy, who is severely autistic, but able to wear masks.
“If you don't feel comfortable sending your kid back, there are no options," Ellis said. “I wasn’t worried until the delta (variant) came along. If the kids get infected, that's going to throw us into quarantine and close schools. That is what is harmful for the children. I just want the kids to be healthy."
But a meeting for the School District of Manatee County on Monday, one speaker, Brian Moure, told board members, “You must keep your policy to reject mask mandates” and called them “unconstitutional, illegal, immoral, unscientific and illogical.”