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Florida schools defy DeSantis on Masks, but worry about funding

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Florida’s schools are with their backs against a wall as Gov. Ron DeSantis issued an order blocking mask mandates in schools right before the academic year starts. The decision came days after the CDC recommended universal masking in K-12 schools for students, teachers, staff, and visitors regardless of vaccination status, citing research that showed vaccinated people may be able to spread the virus as easily as unvaccinated people. 

In response, at least four school districts in Florida plan to defy the mandate with the fear of retaliation with their state funding. 

DeSantis’s order directs state officials to “protect parents’ right to make decisions regarding masking of their children.” Also, that his administration will “pursue all legal means available to ensure school districts adhere to Florida law, including but not limited to withholding state funds from non-compliant school boards.”

Broward was one of the first to defy the order. Although they initially said on Monday they would follow the governor’s mandate, by Wednesday school officials said in a statement that “at this time, the District’s face covering policy, which requires the use of masks in District schools and facilities, remains in place.” 

Officials in Leon, Duval, and Alachua Counties have also moved to defy DeSantis’s order. Leon County Public Schools Superintendent Rocky Hanna even wrote to the governor asking him to implement a temporary mask mandate for students up to eighth grade. She noted that four students in the district have been hospitalized and two teachers are in intensive care.

School board members in Alachua County voted on Tuesday night to keep a school mask mandate in place for at least the first two weeks of school, adding that the decision will be re-evaluated in two weeks. With that move, they potentially risk a portion of its $141 million in state funds. 

In Duval County, the board voted late Tuesday to require students to wear masks unless parents submit paperwork to opt-out. 

President Joe Biden said on Tuesday that governors who are against mask mandates should “get out of the way.” DeSantis criticized Biden on Wednesday, repeating his stance that the decision on masks in schools should be left to parents.

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