Aug 31, 2021 - Politics

Florida school districts face mask free-for-all after judge strikes down DeSantis' ban

Illustration of a school crossing sign wearing a mask.

Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

School boards across Florida are reconsidering mandatory mask policies since a judge struck down Gov. Ron DeSantis’ order barring local classroom mandates.

Driving the news: The ruling paved the way for boards in Brevard, Charlotte, Lee, Lake, Volusia, and Osceola Counties to call meetings to talk about mask policies. At least two of them — Brevard and Lee — instituted mask mandates Monday.

Why it matters: As of Monday, Tampa Bay school districts from Citrus to Sarasota had reported nearly 17,000 confirmed COVID cases among students and staff — a milestone that took months longer to reach last school year.

State of play: Hillsborough and Sarasota are among the 10 boards that openly defied DeSantis' orders and made masks mandatory — but those 10 make up more than half of the state’s public school students.

  • It sets up an interesting situation in Pinellas County, where the swing vote to keep masks optional was a board member who wanted mandatory masks but didn’t want to "break the law."

Between the lines: The ruling, which DeSantis has vowed to appeal, seems to have kept Florida out of the crosshairs of the U.S. Department of Education.

  • The feds announced yesterday that they're investigating five Republican-led states that banned mask requirements because those policies could mean discrimination against students who have disabilities or health issues.
  • The department said — for now — it wasn’t looking at the four states where such bans have been overturned by courts: Florida, Texas, Arkansas and Arizona.

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