Aug 19, 2021 - COVID

Florida's biggest school districts vote to defy DeSantis on masks

Families protest masks before a school board meeting in Tampa. Photo: Octavio Jones/Getty Images

After record-shattering daily COVID-19 counts, school boards in Florida's Hillsborough and Miami-Dade Counties held emergency meetings Wednesday and voted to again require face coverings on campuses.

Why it matters: The districts are the nation's fourth- and seventh-largest — representing more than 600,000 students.

State of play: Hillsborough reported Wednesday that there were 1,840 confirmed cases among students and staff, and that 10,000 students and staff were quarantined.

A big change: Students had been allowed to opt out of wearing a mask at school if they filled out a simple form. The measure approved Wednesday now requires that a certified health care provider document the medical or psychological need to be unmasked.

  • The policy goes into effect immediately and lasts for 30 days.

Yes, but: Lots of questions about the political and financial repercussions for defying DeSantis remain.

  • His administration had threatened to dock the salaries of superintendents and school board members who don't allow parents to opt out, the Tampa Bay Times reported.

What they're saying: The board listened to nearly two hours of public comments that exposed the intense political nature of the issue, and a depressing level of misinformation.

  • One man apologized to the parents who have lost children to COVID and then audaciously told them that masks would not have prevented their children’s deaths.
  • Others, who called themselves "patriots" several times, mocked masks as "face diapers" and said they refused to live in fear.

The other side: "It would be incredible to see the same number of people who talked about oppression today speak up for our Black and Latino students," said board member Karen Perez, pointing out that those are the most at risk populations.


Get more local stories in your inbox with Axios Tampa Bay.


Support local journalism by becoming a member.

Learn more

More Tampa Bay stories

No stories could be found

Tampa Baypostcard

Get a free daily digest of the most important news in your backyard with Axios Tampa Bay.


Support local journalism by becoming a member.

Learn more