TALLAHASSEE — Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ fight over school mask mandates took a dramatic turn on Tuesday after the state Board of Education ruled two defiant school districts broke state law and threatened to remove local elected officials for disobeying the GOP governor.
School leaders in Alachua County and Broward County, who are resisting DeSantis’ order banning mask mandates, now could face a range of possible punishments for defying the DeSantis administration, which has taken a hard line against enacting additional Covid-19 precautions despite a record-breaking surge in cases and hospitalizations brought on by the Delta variant.
And yet even as these counties were hounded for opposing DeSantis, school leaders in other counties — including Miami-Dade, Florida’s largest school district — are considering their own mask mandates to battle the coronavirus, signaling that the weekslong battle over face coverings in Florida is far from finished.
“We have districts who are picking and choosing what laws they want to follow,” Florida Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran said Tuesday during a virtual education meeting.
Florida, along with states like Texas, Arkansas and Tennessee, has pushed to block local mask mandates in schools just as the new in-person education year is beginning, breaking with guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommending face coverings indoors for children regardless of vaccination status. The ongoing conflict over face coverings has quickly become one of the most contentious fights amid the surge in Covid infections, with parents fighting with school officials and the White House trading barbs almost daily with DeSantis and Texas GOP Gov. Greg Abbott, who tested positive for Covid on Tuesday.
DeSantis, who is in the midst of a 2022 reelection bid, wants parents in Florida to have the ultimate say on students wearing masks, a position the overwhelming majority of school districts have fallen in line with for 2021. The DeSantis administration, which has rejected lockdowns and making face coverings mandatory, maintains that masks don’t make enough difference in school-age children to be required through blanket statewide or local policies.
But the Delta strain of Covid-19 has forced some school districts to reconsider their position on face coverings, even in the face of DeSantis threatening to withhold state dollars. Already, thousands of students in Florida remain in isolation because they may have come into contact with someone with Covid-19 and at least three Broward County educators died last week from the virus.
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