At least two Florida school districts will implement mask mandates in defiance of an executive order issued by Gov. Ron DeSantis (R).
The superintendents of Leon and Alachua counties said Monday that they will require all students and faculty in K-12 schools to wear face coverings indoors without giving parents the ability to opt their children out. Their actions directly defy an emergency rule issued Friday by the Florida Department of Health requiring schools to let parents choose what is best for their children — to mask or not, ABC News reported.
The consequences of defying the Department of Health could be the loss of state funding. DeSantis signed an executive order on July 30 empowering the state education commissioner to defund school districts that don't comply with the rules "protecting the rights of parents."
Speaking at a news conference Monday, Leon County school Superintendent Rocky Hanna said that mask mandates are needed to keep children safe as COVID-19 infections and hospitalizations surge in Florida. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data, Florida has the highest number of confirmed pediatric hospitalizations from the virus, with 32 hospitalizations per day between July 24 and July 30. There are 0.76 kids hospitalized per 100,000 residents, reportedly the highest rate in the country.
"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. I can't," Hanna said.
"If there's an out and I didn't take the out, and I didn't do what was best for the children here in Tallahassee and Leon County, that's on me," he added.
Parents of K-8 students in Leon County will be able to exempt their kids from the mask mandate if they submit a doctor's note giving a medical reason for doing so. Florida's Hope Scholarship is also available for parents who wish to transfer their kids to another school district to avoid "COVID-19 harassment."
Likewise, Alachua County school Superintendent Carlee Simon told ABC News that she will also violate the governor's order and prevent parents from opting their kids out of mask mandates without a medical reason.
"I'm going to listen to the experts and let them guide this, and I think that's what we need to do. The safety and the security and the quality of instructional hours are what matters right now," Simon said. "I know it appears I'm being combative and I don't want to be combative, but this is the responsibility I have in this position."
She said that in the last two weeks two school employees have died from the virus, 32 have tested positive, and 85 more have been placed in quarantine. Seven students have also tested positive for the virus.
In a statement to ABC News, DeSantis' office clarified that the state won't revoke funding for students from schools that violate the governor's executive order.
Instead, DeSantis press secretary Christina Pushaw explained, "The State Board of Education could move to withhold the salary of the district superintendent or school board members, as a narrowly tailored means to address the decision-makers who led to the violation of law."