Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has doubled down on his campaign against school mask mandates by threatening to dock salaries of school board members who approve them.
The Broward County School Board tripled down on its insistence that masks will be mandatory, voting 8–1 on Tuesday to retain its mandate when school begins Aug. 18 and to challenge DeSantis’ directives in court.
“Lose our salaries? Bring it,” board member Nora Rupert said. “When you put that out there, it makes me work harder for our schoolchildren and families.”
The Broward County School Board’s vote followed Leon County Schools Superintendent Rocky Hanna’s announcement Monday that masks will be required for prekindergarten through eighth-grade students when classes start Wednesday.
“You can’t put a price tag on someone’s life, including my salary,” Hanna said.
Most Florida school districts have optional mask polices while others require masks but allow parents to opt out students. Those measures are acceptable, according to DeSantis.
Miami-Dade County Public Schools Superintendent Alberto Carvalho said Sunday his district’s still-undetermined mask policy will be “oriented by the expert advice of professionals” without regard to the “rhetorical narrative that’s deeply influenced by politics rather than medicine.”
“At no time shall I allow my decision to be influenced by a threat to my paycheck, a small price to pay considering the gravity of this issue and the potential impact to the health and well-being of our students and dedicated employees,” Carvalho said.
Mandatory mask requirements approved by the Broward, Leon, and Alachua county school boards are among districts that run afoul of DeSantis’ executive order allowing parents to ignore mask mandates and withholding money from districts that violate the order.
In a Washington Post op-ed, Alachua County Public Schools Superintendent Carlee Simon wrote Monday it’s her duty to impose a mask mandate under the Florida Constitution.
“I value life too much to take chances with the lives of others, even under the threat of retaliation. As our school board chair has so aptly put it, better a loss of funding than a loss of lives,” she wrote. “We don’t have the luxury of ignoring the current crisis to score political points.”
DeSantis did not back down Tuesday.
“We think it’s ultimately the parents’ decision. We think that this is something that intimately affects the health and well-being of young kids,” he said in Surfside. “We had a whole year to watch how this has developed in Florida, throughout the United States and throughout the world, and I can tell you in Florida we had school districts that mandated it last year, others that didn’t. Same with private and charter, and there was no statistical difference.”
DeSantis dismissed fears that coronavirus’ delta variant poses a greater risk to children.
“Now there’s an attempt to say the delta variant has changed a lot with respect to kids,” he said. “Here’s what I can tell you. If you look throughout the entire pandemic, between 1.1 and 1.4 percent of COVID-positive patients in Florida hospitals have been pediatrics. And right now, it’s 1.3 percent, so you have not seen a change in the proportion of the young people who end up being admitted.”
More Florida children were hospitalized with COVID-19 on Aug. 3 than any state other than Texas, according to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services. The 135 children are a small percentage of the 15,000 COVID-19 patients now in state hospitals.
Florida U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio called attention to those numbers Monday.
“As for children and teenagers, the chances are that if they get it, they’re going to be fine after a few days. But unlike the first wave of COVID, we are seeing children in hospitals and even in intensive care—and that’s something we didn’t see the first time around,” he said.
By John Haughey