The school board in Florida’s Hillsborough County voted on Aug. 18 to impose a mask mandate on school children, in defiance of a state rule put in place by the administration of Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis.
The board voted 5–2 in favor of the mask mandate, which allows parents to opt-out only with a doctor’s note, according to Fox 13.
The doctor’s note requirement for opting out is similar to the one imposed by Alachua County, which is already under investigation by the state for violating the emergency rule, which requires school districts to allow parents to opt their children out of wearing masks.
The state’s Department of Health and Department of Education adopted the rule earlier this month in response to an executive order issued by DeSantis.
The order called on state agencies to create protocols to protect school children against the spread of COVID-19. The order specifically required the resulting rules and actions to be in line with the state’s Parents’ Bill of Rights, specifically in terms of protecting the parents’ right to decide whether their children should wear masks.
The Florida Board of Education voted on Aug. 17 to investigate Alachua and Broward counties for violating the emergency rule. Florida Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran determined that there’s probable cause that the two districts violated state law by imposing blanket mask mandates on students in public schools.
“Every school board member and every school superintendent have a duty to comply with the law, whether they agree with it or not,” Corcoran wrote in memos to the board regarding the two school districts.
“While the district may not agree with the safety protocols set forth by the Surgeon General in the emergency rule, the Surgeon General is the person who, under the law, sets protocols to control COVID-19 in schools.”
The DeSantis administration threatened to punish the counties that are violating the rule by withholding funds equal to the salaries of the offending county school board members and superintendents. The Biden administration intervened in the dispute by promising to replenish any funds taken away from the school district with $7 billion in taxpayer money allocated to Florida schools in the pandemic relief package.
President Joe Biden warned on Aug. 18 that governors who ban school mask mandates could face legal action from the federal government, and directed Education Secretary Miguel Cardona “to take additional steps to protect our children.”
“This includes using his oversight authority and legal action, if appropriate, against governors trying to block and intimidate local school officials and educators,” Biden said at the White House. “We’re not going to sit by as governors try to block and intimidate educators protecting our children.”
In an appearance on Fox News, DeSantis responded to Biden’s comments.
“He is obsessed with having the government force kindergarteners to wear masks all day in school,” DeSantis said. “In Florida, we believe that that’s the parents’ decision. Joe Biden thinks the federal government should come and overrule the parents and force these young kids to wear these masks.
“You’ve got to wonder, where are your priorities that you’re so obsessed with this issue and so obsessed with taking away parents’ rights, and you’re letting Afghanistan burn, our border burn and so many other things in our country fall to pieces.”