10 Florida school districts have now mandated masks in defiance of ban
Threats of funding cuts by state leaders have fallen flat in Florida as a growing number of school boards and superintendents are imposing new mask mandates.
Just this week, rising COVID numbers among staff and students have convinced several more district leaders to join an initial group of districts that instituted mask requirements earlier this month.
In announcing his district’s temporary mask mandate for pre-K through 8th grade this week, Leon County Schools Superintendent Rocky Hanna asked Gov. Ron DeSantis to give local districts the authority to make critical public health decisions.
“To Gov. DeSantis, I ask you to reconsider your position on the issue to give local control back to school districts to do what’s best for the children in our community,” Hanna said during a Facebook Live appearance. “A leader should never allow pride or politics to cloud their better judgment. It is never too late to do the right thing.”
The district recorded 245 cases in the first seven days of school this month, which is nearly one-third of last school year’s total. The average daily rate of new cases has reached the mid-40s, surpassing last year’s daily high of 19 on a single day, Hanna said.
If case numbers continue to rise at the current rate, there is a growing likelihood that schools will have to close, he said, and he is urging all eligible students to get vaccinated.
“I don’t believe masks are necessarily the end-all-be-all, but we know they make a difference—the avast majority of health-care experts tell us they make a difference,” Hanna said. “I am in total favor of individual rights and freedom and the rights of parents. However, I strongly believe my rights end when they infringe on the rights of others.”
On Tuesday, Orange County Public Schools, which includes Orlando, and The School District of Indian River became the ninth and 10th Florida districts to mandate masks.
Universal masking will be in place in Orange County for 60 days starting on Aug. 30, WFTV.com reported.
Indian River Superintendent David K. Moore said COVID mitigation strategies without masking have not worked in slowing transmission during the first two weeks of school. He recognizes not everyone supports masks and he doesn’t not want to require them for an extended period of time, he said in an interview with CBS12.
“If we don’t respond to what we know is not working, we’re going to see classroom closures, grade-level closures, school closures,” Moore said. “I’m not afraid to make difficult decisions because I’m not afraid to be fired.”
Indian River County School Superintendent @SDIRC_SUP speaks to @CBS12 about the reversal mask policy that now requires students PreK-8 to wear a face covering indoors when social distancing is not possible and on school buses. pic.twitter.com/Wy4vFaaz4x
— Denise Sawyer of CBS12 (@DeniseCBS12) August 25, 2021
And on Monday, Duval County Public Schools, headquartered in Jacksonville, became the eighth district in the state to mandate masks, FirstCoastNews.com reported. The requirement goes into effect for 90 days starting on Sept. 7, but families can opt out for medical reasons, the district says on its website.
Other districts that have imposed some degree of mask mandate include Alachua, Broward, Hillsborough, Miami-Dade, Palm Beach and Sarasota counties.
More than half of Florida’s students are now covered by mask mandates, The Washington Post points out. It also noted that two of the counties, Indian River and Sarasota, voted in 2020 for Donald Trump, who enjoyed ardent support from DeSantis.
Governor losing support?
A majority of Floridians (60%) are in favor of school mask mandates, a newly released survey has found.
However, there is a severe split between Democrats and Republicans, with 98% of the former supporting and 72% of Republicans opposing mask mandates, according to the Quinnipiac University poll.
Nearly 70% also said withholding the salaries of school leaders, as DeSantis has threatened to do, is a bad idea, the survey found. There is agreement along party lines on this issue, with 91% of Democrats and 70% of Republicans opposing the funding cuts.
Beyond schools, 61% of Floridians said the state’s current COVID surge was preventable.
“As COVID-19 makes a frightening resurgence, it’s Tallahassee vs. the teaching institutions,” Quinnipiac University polling analyst Tim Malloy said. “Thumbs down from Floridians on DeSantis’ ban on mask requirements in public schools. Thumbs down on DeSantis’ call to freeze the pay of administrators who mandate mask-wearing. And he gets scant support from fellow Republicans on penalizing the school leaders who defy him.”