The Phoenix Flyer

FL school openings come with continued mask debates, struggles over autonomy; some districts pushing back, going to court

By: - August 10, 2021 1:44 pm

A surgical mask and a KN95 mask hang on display for sale at a pharmacy. Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images.

The Broward School Board has voted to keep its mask mandate, according to news outlets in South Florida.

In a twitter post from WPLG 10 said: “school board members lashed out at @GovRonDeSantisWPLG for what they call overreach, following his executive order to make masks optional, defunding threats as well as withholding salaries of school officials.”

Another outlet, CBS Miami, wrote that: The Broward County School Board has voted “to implement the rules set out by the state’s health and education departments, and file a legal action to challenge the state’s ban on a mask mandate.”

Sen. Gary Farmer, a Democrat who represents part of Broward County, testified during the Tuesday meeting to encourage the the school board to “not be intimidated by the governor’s threats” to withhold the salaries of board members and superintendents of counties that impose a mask mandate for their schools.

In a follow-up press release, Farmer applauded the Broward school district for their vote.

“I want to thank the members of the Broward County School Board for taking the brave action that was absolutely necessary to protect our children, teachers, faculty, staff and their families from the very real threat of COVID-19,” Farmer said.

On July 30,  DeSantis posted an executive order to protect a parent’s right to “direct the upbringing, education, health care or mental health” of their student. The executive order prohibits school districts from infringing on that right, including mask mandates, through policies and law.

But some districts wanted to impose a mask mandate to help combat a surge of COVID cases in Florida, leading to a question about which entity has more authority over Florida’s schools during a pandemic — the state or local school boards.

In the press release, Sen. Farmer argues that “The Governor has no authority to enforce his dangerous and politically motivated orders, and I am confident that the orders and any retaliatory action that he may take will not hold up in court.”

Other districts are trying to mandate masks in schools.

Meanwhile, at a Florida Democratic Party news conference,  a school board member in Alachua County said she and her colleagues would not plan to switch to a different mask policy. That district is currently doing two weeks of a mask mandate.

Earlier Wednesday, Democratic state lawmakers on Wednesday urged school districts to stand firm about its own mask policies, rather than follow edicts from the state Capitol.

Keep in mind that local school boards have power under the Florida Constitution to make these decisions.

Four lawmakers were on a Zoom call Wednesday, on the first day of school for many districts, and State Rep. Fentrice Driskell said that school boards should look to public health experts to make decisions on masks for schoolchildren. Driskell represents part of Hillsborough County in the Legislature.

Another lawmaker, Robin Bartleman, said outright that school boards should implement a mask requirement. She represents part of Broward County, which is as of Wednesday, still discussing what to do about a possible mask mandate for their schools.

Meanwhile, in Leon County in the state Capitol, district teachers and parents are divided on a mask mandate, based on a Twitter post by the school district.

Alachua County appears to be doing what it decided: Two weeks of a mask mandate, with families allowed to opt out through a medical-related process.

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Danielle J. Brown
Danielle J. Brown

Danielle J. Brown is a 2018 graduate of Florida State University, majoring in English with a focus in editing, writing, and media. While at FSU, she served as an editorial intern for International Program’s annual magazine, Nomadic Noles. Last fall, she fulfilled another editorial internship with Rowland Publishing, where she wrote for the Tallahassee Magazine, Emerald Coast Magazine, and 850 Business Magazine. She was born and raised in Tallahassee and reviews community theater productions for the Tallahassee Democrat. She spends her downtime traveling to all corners of Florida and beyond to practice lindy hop.