The Sarasota County School Board voted, 3-2, late Friday to impose a 90-day mask mandate for students, employees, and visitors, citing a soaring positivity rate in locals tested for COVID-19, ovewhelmed local hospitals, and the district’s struggle to conduct sufficient school-based testing and contact tracing.
The Florida Board of Education will withhold money equal to the salaries of local school board members from districts in Alachua and Broward counties over their tough mask mandates for students, which state officials say violate Florida law.
The U.S. Department of Education is “deeply concerned” about Gov. Ron DeSantis’ executive order seeking to ban school mask mandates and is ready to help districts directly, the federal agency said in a letter to the governor Friday.
Most districts have reluctantly acceded to the rules, requiring kids to wear masks but offering opt-outs at the request of parents or guardians. Broward County school officials voted Tuesday to mandate masks and if necessary challenge DeSantis in court. The Flagler school district is not going so far as to mandate, even with an opt-out. Reports from schools today indicate that only a minority of students masked up, while top school officials visiting the schools did so unmasked.
Florida reported an additional 20,133 new COVID-19 infections on Wednesday, making the state responsible for about 22 percent of the new cases reported nationwide for the day, according to data posted Thursday by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
In a letter to Florida Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran, Sen. Gary Farmer Jr., the Broward County Democrat, says the department’s move to enact an emergency rule banning school districts from enacting masking requirements is outside both the governor’s and the Education Department’s authority under law.
Elected officials’ attitudes and actions about masks and vaccinations have become a flashpoint in the increasingly tribal nature of partisan politics. The ideological schism over preventive protocols in Florida has aided DeSantis’ rise as a national presidential contender and, at the same time, become a cornerstone of Democrats’ efforts to oust him.
The governors filed a friend-of-the-court brief in support of a 2018 Mississippi law banning abortions after 15 weeks. The filing doesn’t make these states party to Mississippi’s defense of its statute, but voices their legal support for that state’s case.
Republicans were emboldened in the 23 states where they control the governorship and both houses of the legislature. Other factors include a newly conservative U.S. Supreme Court, GOP backlash over former President Donald Trump’s reelection loss and a tidal wave of social media campaigns and commentary aimed at galvanizing conservatives by playing up divisive cultural issues.
While the Flagler Health Department and AdventHealth Palm Coast are overrun with Covid cases and in-patients, local governments have gone silent, indifferent to the worst wave of the pandemic yet, making a mockery of their claim of a “partnership” with the Health Department or the hospital and amplifying community apathy that multiplies infections.