State Watch

Two Florida school districts refusing to let students opt out of mask mandates

Two Florida school districts are refusing to allow parents to opt out of having their children wear masks in school, risking financial retribution and the ire of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R).

As ABC News reports, the superintendents of Leon and Alachua counties have come forward with their plans to enforce mask mandates, citing the latest surge in COVID-19 cases brought on by the delta variant.

“If something happened and things went sideways for us this week and next week as we started school, and heaven forbid we lost a child to this virus, I can’t just simply blame the governor of the state. I can’t,” Leon County Superintendent Rocky Hanna said during a news conference.

“If there’s an out and I didn’t take the out, and I didn’t do what was best for the children here in Tallahassee and Leon County, that’s on me,” Hanna added.

ABC notes that Florida currently has the highest number of pediatric COVID-19 hospitalizations. The state is currently regarded as being the worst hit by the surge in COVID-19 cases. Despite accounting for roughly 7 percent of the U.S. population, Florida is reporting about 20 percent of new COVID-19 cases.

Leon County parents can submit a doctor-signed note that states a child can go without a mask in schools or they can also transfer their child to another school district, ABC News reports.

Carlee Simon, the superintendent of Alachua County, similarly said she would not be giving parents the option of opting out of the district’s mask mandate without medical reasons.

“I’m going to listen to the experts and let them guide this, and I think that’s what we need to do. The safety and the security and the quality of instructional hours are what matters right now,” Simon said to ABC. “I know it appears I’m being combative, and I don’t want to be combative, but this is the responsibility I have in this position.”

ABC reports that two Alachua County Public Schools employees have died due to COVID-19 in the past two weeks.

Seemingly in response to opposite to his ban on mask mandates, DeSantis’s office released a statement on Monday saying it could withhold the salaries of superintendents and school board members who defy him.

“With respect to enforcing any financial consequences for noncompliance of state law regarding these rules and ultimately the rights of parents to make decisions about their children’s education and health care decisions, it would be the goal of the State Board of Education to narrowly tailor any financial consequences to the offense committed,” DeSantis’s said in a statement.

“For example, the State Board of Education could move to withhold the salary of the district superintendent or school board members, as a narrowly tailored means to address the decision-makers who led to the violation of law,” his office added.

When asked if she feared losing her salary due to her actions, Simon told ABC, “I’d be interested in the legal argument of how that could occur.”

DeSantis has received criticism from lawmakers on both sides of the aisle for his ban on mask mandates, notably getting into a spat with President Biden, who said governors like DeSantis should “get out of the way of people who are trying to do the right thing.”

And GOP Sen. Bill Cassidy (La.) said on Sunday that he disagreed with DeSantis’s mask mandate ban.

“If a local community is having a — their ICU is full, and the people at the local schools see that they’ve got to make sure they stay open because otherwise children miss out for another year of school, and they put in policy, then the local officials should be listened to,” Cassidy said while appearing on CNN’s “State of the Union.” 

Tags Alachua County, Florida Bill Cassidy Florida Joe Biden Ron DeSantis Ron DeSantis

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