Florida Governor Ron DeSantis has banned mask mandates from schools, and the Biden Administration is stepping up with federal financial assistance
As if there wasn’t enough anxiety surrounding the beginning of the school year, families in Florida have to add heightened risk of COVID infection to their list. On July 30, 2021, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis issued an executive order blocking mask mandates in the state’s schools. Executive Order 21-175, or what DeSantis calls “Ensuring Parents’ Freedom to Choose — Masks in Schools,” bans schools from issuing masking mandates. Schools could still suggest wearing the masks, but ultimately, the order leaves the choice in the hands of parents.
His order blatantly defies CDC guidelines, claiming that “despite recent Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) ‘guidance,’ forcing students to wear masks lacks a well-grounded scientific justification; indeed, a Brown University study analyzed COVID-19 data for schools in Florida and found no correlation with mask mandates.” Florida currently leads the nation with the most children hospitalized for COVID.
Let’s back up — Brown University did a study that found that masks had “no correlation” with the spread of COVID?
Not so much. The study DeSantis cites was conducted by Emily Oster, an economist — not a doctor, biologist, or epidemiologist — and has even peddled back a bit, releasing a statement that acknowledges the study had limitations and “relies on data from the 2020-2021 school year, prior to the emergence of the more contagious delta variant. Current CDC guidance, taking into account the current virus situation and all available data on masking, suggests masking for all K-12 students and staff, regardless of vaccination status.”
To top off an already nerve-racking order, DeSantis said that schools that defy this order would be financially punished. “The Florida Commissioner of Education shall pursue all legal means available to ensure school districts adhere to Florida law, including but not limited to withholding state funds from noncompliant school boards violating any rules or agency action.”
Some Florida schools are still moving forward with mask mandates, and the Department of Education supports their decision to do so.
On August 13, U.S. Education Secretary Miguel Cardona sent a letter to DeSantis and his Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran saying he is “deeply concerned about Florida’s July 30 Executive Order prohibiting school districts from adopting universal masking policies consistent with CDC guidance.”
Some school districts in Florida, including the second-largest district Broward County Public Schools, have said they are keeping the mask mandates in place at the moment, and Cardona wrote that the Department of Education “stands with these dedicated educators who are working to safely reopen schools and maintain safe in-person instruction.” He notes that schools may use money from the Elementary and Secondary School Relief Fund (ESSER) to offset any financial penalties for instilling mask mandates.
Four educators in Broward County have died from complications due to COVID in the past couple of weeks alone. Florida is the state with the highest death rate due to COVID, and has averaged more than 150 deaths a day in the past week. Here’s hoping that people — especially those in power — stop pouting over a piece of cloth that goes over your face that literally saves lives.