Miami Herald

DeSantis’ order: State may withhold funds if school districts make students wear masks


School districts in Broward and Gadsden counties have announced plans to mandate mask-wearing to control the spread of the highly contagious delta variant of the virus that causes COVID-19.

Gov. Ron DeSantis wants to stop them and any others that might follow their lead.

Gov. Ron DeSantis told Florida’s department­s of education and health to protect parents’ right to decide whether their kids will wear masks in schools.

Standing behind a lectern with a sign reading “Free to Choose,” the governor announced Friday in Cape Coral his plan to issue an executive order instructin­g the department­s of education and health to write rules protecting parents’ right to decide whether their children will mask up in schools.

The order was released late Friday afternoon, hours after his speech. It came after the Broward and Gadsden school systems decided recently to require that students wear masks when classes start next month. The order states that the state’s Board of Education can withhold funds from districts that don’t comply with laws or rules regarding the masking of students.

“The question is, shouldn’t this be something the parent is best to eval

uate?” DeSantis said, contending that maskwearin­g did not generate significan­tly different health outcomes in schools last year than in those that had no facialcove­ring rules.

Broward schools spokespers­on Katherine Koch said the district had not seen the order. She said officials will review it and “consider what adjustment­s may be necessary to make to our face-covering policy.”

Anna Fusco, president of the Broward Teachers Union, said in a written statement: “We are extremely disappoint­ed that Gov. DeSantis is choosing not to follow CDC guidelines for a disease that is as transmissi­ble as chicken pox and more transmissi­ble than the flu or common cold. He advocated for people to get the vaccine. Why is he against masks? BTU will continue to advocate for mask wearing by staff and students while COVID numbers and hospitaliz­ations are surging.”

After Wednesday’s Broward School Board meeting in which the mask mandate was approved, board Chair Rosalind Osgood told reporters that if DeSantis convened a special legislativ­e session that resulted in a law banning mask mandates in public schools, Broward would comply.

“Once the governor implements that law, this school district will be responsibl­e School Board members and follow the law,” Osgood said. “We talked about that as part of our discussion today.”


DeSantis’ announceme­nt Friday came at a time of rising hospitaliz­ation rates associated with the coronaviru­s delta variant, and as public-health experts sound warnings that the new strain is more likely to infect children than the original virus.

The governor did not mention those trends. He based his direction on the recently approved Florida law that says the government will not infringe on parental “fundamenta­l rights” regarding their children’s education and healthcare.

“We’re in a situation where we need to make sure the parents’ rights are protected,” DeSantis said.

Ron Meyer, one of Florida’s leading educationp­olicy attorneys, questioned the governor’s authority to take such a step.

The state no longer is under a state of emergency, Meyer noted, meaning the local boards have the constituti­onal power to operate, control and supervise schools in their districts.

“I don’t know how Article IX of the Constituti­on could be more clear,” he said, suggesting the governor is creating an order

“out of thin air” to accomplish his political goals.

Meyer added that the governor’s definition of freedom of choice appeared situationa­l. The state bans indoor smoking, for instance, he said, because of the effects that secondhand smoke has on non-smikers, he noted.

“How is this any different?” Meyer asked, referring to the use of masks to block germs from infecting others.


Miami-Dade Public Schools Superinten­dent Alberto Carvalho told WTVJ-NBC 6 in an interview Friday morning that he also had not yet read DeSantis’ executive order but regardless of the specifics, he’s wary of any

order or law that doesn’t take into considerat­ion the unique needs of individual districts and communitie­s.

“I believe that generalize­d pronouncem­ents via executive order or state statute that basically don’t differenti­ate between conditions which may vary significan­tly from South Florida to Central Florida to the Panhandle, that don’t take into account how differentl­y those conditions may be and the impacts that they may have, may not necessaril­y be in the best interest of our communitie­s,” Carvalho said.

Miami-Dade starts school Aug. 23, which is later than most districts. Carvalho has maintained that the later start date could provide more time for the district to make a more informed decision on masks and other issues. He will meet with publicheal­th and medical advisers about two weeks before classes begin.

“And, regardless of whatever executive order or decision is made regarding these matters, we’re going to take our concerns, our findings and seek recommenda­tions from those experts,” Carvalho said.

The Miami-Dade teachers union, United Teachers of Dade, reacted in a statement released Friday afternoon that accused DeSantis

of engaging in “culture wars that endanger the lives of Floridians.”

“We find ourselves at the intersecti­on of The Twilight Zone and Groundhog’s Day as we are once again at the exact point we were a year ago today,” the union’s statement reads.


In recent days, DeSantis had hinted that he would call a special session of the Legislatur­e about maskmandat­es in schools.

On Thursday, he had calls with House Speaker Chris Sprowls and Senate President Wilton Simpson. But it’s not clear what exactly DeSantis discussed with the legislativ­e leaders.

After Friday’s press event, Simpson and Sprowls issued statements backing DeSantis on his call for the new emergency rules. Their offices did not answer questions about whether the rules meant legislator­s would not be brought back for a special session.

“While there are some public officials who will seek to use the power of government to compel uniformity and adherence to their preferred course of conduct, that approach is not in keeping with Florida values,” Sprowls said in his statement. “Gov. DeSantis recognizes that parents are in the best position to make choices for their children. His actions today demonstrat­e his faith and trust in our fellow Floridians, and he — and they — have my full support.”


Andrew Spar, president of the Florida Education Associatio­n, said the governor and Legislatur­e should respect local control on this issue.

“Gov. DeSantis continues to think that Tallahasse­e knows best what all Floridians need. We reject that kind of thinking,” Spar said in a statement. “Instead, we ask Gov. DeSantis to allow all of Florida’s citizens to have a voice by empowering the elected leaders of cities, counties and school districts to make health and safety decisions locally based on their unique needs and circumstan­ces.”

He called on the governor to lead in other areas where consensus might be achieved, such as placing more nurses and counselors in schools, and ensuring all campuses have air conditioni­ng.

The Florida School Boards Associatio­n shared that perspectiv­e.

“Communitie­s ought to have the space to be able to make decisions locally based on their local priorities at any given time,” Executive Director Andrea Messina said. “Our school districts are very diverse. They have diverse needs, and they have locally elected constituti­onal officers who are elected to make decisions for that local community.”

 ?? MATIAS J. OCNER mocner@miamiheral­ ?? Cars line up at Tropical Park’s COVID-19 testing site in West Miami-Dade on Friday as Florida sees a big jump in cases.
MATIAS J. OCNER mocner@miamiheral­ Cars line up at Tropical Park’s COVID-19 testing site in West Miami-Dade on Friday as Florida sees a big jump in cases.
 ??  ?? Gov. Ron DeSantis
Gov. Ron DeSantis
 ?? JOSE A. IGLESIAS jiglesias@elnuevoher­ ?? A mother adjusts her daughter’s mask at Redland Elementary in Homestead on Oct. 5, 2020.
JOSE A. IGLESIAS jiglesias@elnuevoher­ A mother adjusts her daughter’s mask at Redland Elementary in Homestead on Oct. 5, 2020.

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