Gov. Ron DeSantis doubled last week on his opposition to mask mandates for public-school students during the Covid-19 pandemic, saying he would call for a special legislative session if the federal government moves toward requiring masks in schools.
“There’s been talk about potentially people advocating at the federal level, imposing compulsory masks on kids,” DeSantis said. “We’re not doing that in Florida, OK? We need our kids to breathe.”
DeSantis made the remarks while in Fort Pierce for a ceremonial bill signing with House Speaker Chris Sprowls, R-Palm Harbor. DeSantis said he and Sprowls would back a special session if the federal government requires masks in schools, adding that Florida districts will keep masks optional for students.
Children under 12 are not yet eligible for covid-19 vaccines.
“As of right now, all the school districts are going in that direction. But there is going to be, it looks like, a campaign from Washington to try to change that. I’ve talked to Chris Sprowls, if we need to bring (lawmakers) back in to be able to do something from the legislative perspective, he’s all in,” DeSantis said.
The comments came as Flagler County, Florida and other parts of the country are seeing a surge in Covid-19 cases and hospitalizations, at least in part because of the dangerous delta variant of the coronavirus.
Masks were mandatory in Flagler County schools last year. They are optional when school resumes for teachers on Aug. 3 and for students on Aug. 10. “Obviously we’re talking about it every day, but we’re holding steady with what we’re going with,” a district spokesman said this afternoon. Flagler schools will restart with all in-person instruction except for the traditional virtual school option, which was in place before the pandemic but became much more popular last year. The equivalent of a full school was attending virtual school at one point last year.
“We’re not getting a lot of guidance from the state so we’re having to hold steady with what we originally planned for. I think every district is in the same boat,” the district spokesman said.
The Flagler district also continues to oppose using readily available federal funds, through the Flagler Health Department, to enable rapid covid testing of students in schools. All private schools in the county are adopting the practice. But the district is finalizing its back-to-school protocols.
DeSantis on Wednesday endorsed Floridians getting vaccinated against Covid-19, but children younger than 12 remain ineligible for the shots. Last year, DeSantis pushed schools to reopen for in-person learning amid the pandemic.
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki was asked about DeSantis’ opposition to mask mandates during a press briefing Thursday. Psaki said President Joe Biden’s administration “would have concern about any step that doesn’t abide by public health guidelines.”
Psaki told reporters the administration’s decisions about public health are driven by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which has issued guidelines advising that children younger than 12 should wear masks in schools. The federal government has not mandated that they do so.
“They did already announce that several weeks ago as a part of their CDC guidance for schools,” Psaki said. “Because anybody under 12 is not eligible to be vaccinated, so they would not be vaccinated, and therefore they should be wearing a mask.”
Psaki, who noted that she is a parent, said that “we know masks aren’t the most comfortable thing” but told reporters that her children “are quite adjusted” to wearing them.
“If I were a parent in Florida, that would be greatly concerning to me,” Psaki said of DeSantis’ mask-mandate opposition. “Because kids under the age of 12 are not vaccinated, they’re not eligible yet. As the president said last night, obviously it’s going to be led by the FDA (U.S. Food and Drug Administration), but certainly we hope that will be soon.”
–Ryan Dailey, News Service of Florida, and FlaglerLive