TALLAHASSEE, FL – Amid a surge of COVID-19 cases in his state driven by the more contagious Delta variant, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis issued an ultimatum on Monday to school superintendents who issue mask mandates for their respective districts- their salaries may be withheld unless they include a clause for students to opt-out.
Last week, DeSantis – a Republican who has been staunchly against renewing any COVID-related restrictions despite a huge uptick of cases in Florida recently – issued an executive order on Friday that forbade school districts in his state from mandating mask-wearing for their students when the classes start up this Wednesday.
This directive from the Governor comes despite Florida reporting a record-breaking 23,903 new COVID-19 cases on Friday, with 22,783 new cases the day before. On Saturday, 13,747 hospitalizations related to COVID-19 were reported statewide.
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Despite the threat from DeSantis’ office, Rocky Hanna, the superintendent of schools for Leon County – which includes the state capital of Tallahassee – announced Monday that masks will be required for all students from pre-kindergarten to the eighth grade; the only exceptions will be for “medical or psychological reasons,” whereas reasons such as “politics” or “personal freedom” will not be accepted.
“If something happened and things went sideways for us this week and next week as we started school, and heaven forbid we lost a child to this virus… I can’t just simply blame the governor of the state of Florida,” Hanna said.
DeSantis’ office confirmed that the Governor’s executive order allows schools to issue mask mandates for their students as long as parents are allowed to opt their children out for any reason that they want.
Hanna noted that currently, the Leon County schools mask mandate will be in place until at least Labor Day; if the rate of COVID infections reported have dropped by then, the ability to opt out for personal or political reasons will then be allowed.
According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance, students in kindergarten through 12th grade should wear masks in school – regardless of vaccination status – due to the Delta variant. Currently, children under the age of 12 are not yet eligible to be vaccinated.