Updated Jul 30, 2021 - Health

DeSantis issues order barring Florida schools from mandating masks

Photo of Ron DeSantis speaking before a group of microphones at an outdoors conference
Photo: Michael Reaves via Getty Images

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) on Friday issued an executive order that bars local school districts from requiring students to wear masks when they return to the classroom next month.

Why it matters: The spread of the Delta variant has led to a spike in new infections across the United States, triggering another round of debate about COVID guidelines in schools.

  • DeSantis' announcement comes after the Broward County school board passed a mask mandate Wednesday due to new guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which recommends universal indoor masking for all teachers, staff, students and visitors to K-12 schools this upcoming school year, regardless of vaccination status.

Details: The order directs the Florida Department of Education and Department of Health to issue emergency rules protecting the rights of parents to make this decision about wearing masks for their children.

  • In his order, DeSantis said the CDC's guidance "lacks a well-grounded scientific justification." He also added that "forcing children to wear masks could inhibit breathing."

What he's saying: Wearing face masks is a parent's decision, not the government's, DeSantis told supporters at a restaurant on Friday.

  • "We think that's the most fair way to do it," he added.
  • "I have young kids. My wife and I are not going to do the masks with the kids ... I want to see my kids smiling. I want them having fun."

The Florida Education Association, which represents 150,000 public school employees, criticized DeSantis' "one-size-fits-all" policy.

  • "No matter if we live in urban South Florida, in the rural Panhandle or somewhere in-between, we all want our children to be healthy and safe,” the union said in a statement.
  • "Unfortunately, through his words and actions, Gov. DeSantis has made clear he does not respect the freedom of locally elected officials to do what they feel is best for their communities."

The big picture: School masking has reemerged as a pandemic fault line across Florida, Axios Tampa Bay's Selene San Felice writes.

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