Tallahassee Education Officials Fight Back against DeSantis’ Funding Threats

August 18, 2021 News & Announcements

The Order that Started it all

Ron DeSantis issued an executive order on July 30 titled “Ensuring Parents’ Freedom to Choose – Masks in Schools”. The order was intended to “protect the fundamental right of parents to make health and educational decisions for their children,” by preventing school districts from imposing mask mandates for children at school. If the State Board of Education finds that a school district goes against this prohibition, the State Board has “the authority, among other things, [to] withhold the transfer of state funds, discretionary grant funds, discretionary lottery funds, or any other funds specified as eligible for this purpose by the Legislature until the school district complies with the law or state board rule and declares the school district ineligible for competitive grants.” Furthermore, the order states that children are at a low risk of contracting the virus and raises the debate if masks are more harmful to children and to school environment than they are helpful. Ultimately, DeSantis’ order is meant to “protect the freedoms and statutory rights of students and parents by resting with the parents the decision whether their children should wear masks in school.”

Counties Put up A Fight

Although the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Guidance recommends students in K-12 schools wear masks, DeSantis stated  the recommendation “lacks a well-grounded scientific justification.” Some of the largest school districts throughout Florida, including Hillsborough, Broward, and Duval, have implemented mandates that go against the Governor’s order. Broward is the only county to have an opt-out option, which would allow parents to opt their children out of wearing a mask without providing a reason. On August 9, Leon County joined the other districts when Leon County Schools Superintendent Rocky Hannah announced that pre-K-8 students will be required to wear mask through the end of August. However, parents can opt their child out of wearing one with signed documentation by a licensed physician or psychologist. In response to DeSantis’ threat that the Board of Education could withhold the salary of superintendents or school board members who choose to enforce mask mandates, Hanna stated “[y]ou can’t put a price tag on someone’s life, including my salary.” Hanna also wrote a letter to DeSantis’ asking for “flexibility and autonomy” when it comes to mask mandates and pleading that we can “not allow pride or politics to cloud our better judgement.” He cited research that the Delta variant of COVID is significantly more contagious than the original Alpha version of the virus, and as of August 3, four school-aged children and two Pre-K teachers in Leon county had been hospitalized because of the virus.

The Common Goal

Political games are ensuing despite the fact that all the players, including the Governor, Board of Education, and school county officials all have the same common goal – to keep schools open so children can attend classes in person. DeSantis believes that not wearing masks is imperative to ensure the health of students, while opposing county officials believe wearing masks is necessary to ensure the health of students. The country has been in a standstill over this issue since the virus’ first surge, and students are preparing for and beginning their third COVID-impacted school year. All of these factors lead us to question – are officials really prioritizing the safety of children, or is the issue just another way for politicians to take jabs at one another?

This article was written by Sarah Kamide

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