FORT LAUDERDALE, FLA. (WSVN) - Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has signed an executive order that will block school districts in the state from issuing mask mandates for students and instead leaving the decision up to the parents.
DeSantis announced he would sign the executive order at a press conference held Friday in Cape Coral.
“[The] executive order directs the Florida Department of Education and the Department of Health to issue emergency rules protecting the rights of parents to make this decision about wearing masks for their children,” he said. “There will be no restrictions and no mandates in the state of Florida.”
The move comes just days after the Centers for Disease Control recommended that all students wear masks, regardless of vaccination status, and two days after the Broward County School Board voted to require masks for students and staff in the upcoming school year.
Dr. Rosalind Osgood, chair of the Broward school board, said they will not stand in DeSantis’ way.
“To get the response from the governor today was a little disturbing. However, as a responsible policy maker, from a school board perspective, we have to follow the law,” she said.
Protesters burned masks outside of BCPS’ Kathleen C. Wright Administration Building in downtown Fort Lauderdale earlier this week. A handful of parents begged the school board not to mandate the face coverings.
“These children are suffering social and emotional distress,” said a mask mandate opponent.
Others said masks are safer.
“I’d like to see them more wearing the masks. I think it’s important,” said Tiara Smith.
The governor said parents and guardians would still be able to have their children wear masks if they desire.
“Look, if a parent really feels that this is something that’s important for their kid, we’re not stopping that,” DeSantis said. “They absolutely have every right to equip their student with whatever types of masks that they want and have them go to school, if they believe that’s a protection that’s important for their children. I think that’s the fairest way to do it — to let the parents have the decision.”
DeSantis added that he and his wife will not require their children to wear masks.
The governor’s announcement comes as COVID cases continue to surge in Florida, especially the highly contagious delta variant.
Doctors said, while hospitalizations for children are slightly up, overall, cases are low.
“The overwhelming percentages and numbers of children that get infected with COVID, and get infected with the delta variant, have got mild to moderate symptoms,” said Dr. Aharon Sareli with Memorial Healthcare.
District leaders in Broward will still encourage mask wearing.
“Please wear your mask. If your children are 12 and older, get them vaccinated,” said Osgood.
Meanwhile, Miami-Dade County Public Schools Superintendent Alberto Carvalho said he is still gathering information.
“Regardless of whatever executive order or decision [DeSantis] has made regarding these matters, we’re going to take our concerns, our findings, and seek recommendations from those experts,” he said.
Karla Hernandez-Mats, the president of the United Teachers of Dade, released a statement on Friday. It reads in part, “While South Florida becomes the national epicenter for COVID, Governor DeSantis continues to engage in culture wars that endager the lives of Floridians. Let’s be better citizens by following safety guidance and getting vaccinated.”
Anna Fusco, the president of the Broward Teachers Union, said she is also disappointed, and she encouraged teachers to wear masks.
“I do believe that we’re still going to have a mask majority that will wear the masks,” she said.
Friday afternoon, a spokesperson for the Archdiocese of Miami said students at private Catholic schools in Miami-Dade and Broward counties will continue to wear masks until the end of summer school. However, they have not made a decision regarding mask wearing for the upcoming school year.
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