On Friday, Gov. Ron DeSantis announced he will do all he can to stop school mask mandates, saying that every parent should have the right to choose what is best for their child.
DeSantis issued an executive order directing the Florida Department of Health (FDOH) to enter rulemaking in collaboration with the Florida Department of Education (FDOE) to protect parents’ freedom to choose whether their children wear masks.
“The federal government has no right to tell parents that in order for their kids to attend school in person, they must be forced to wear a mask all day, every day,” said DeSantis. “Many Florida schoolchildren have suffered under forced masking policies, and it is prudent to protect the ability of parents to make decisions regarding the wearing of masks by their children.”
“Today’s action is in response to several Florida school boards considering or implementing mask mandates in their schools after the Biden administration issued unscientific and inconsistent recommendations that school-aged children wear masks. FDOH will enter rulemaking in collaboration with FDOE. This is consistent with HB 241 (Parents’ Bill of rights), which was signed into law on June 29. The bill outlines parental rights relating to a minor child’s education, upbringing and health,” the governor’s office noted.
The executive order reads as follows:
WHEREAS, a right to normal education is imperative to the growth and development of our children and adolescents; and
WHEREAS, last summer, at my direction, Florida’s Department of Education ordered schools to be open for in-person instruction for five days per week to ensure the continued well-being of students and families; and
WHEREAS, schools – including those that did not require students to be masked – did not drive community transmission of COVID-19; and
WHEREAS, 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; and
WHEREAS, masking children may lead to negative health and societal ramifications; and
WHEREAS, studies have shown that children are at a low risk of contracting a serious illness due to COVID-19 and do not play a significant role in the spread of the virus; and
WHEREAS, forcing children to wear masks could inhibit breathing, lead to the collection of dangerous impurities including bacteria, parasites, fungi, and other contaminants, and adversely affect communications in the classroom and student performance; and
WHEREAS, there is no statistically-significant evidence to suggest that counties with mask requirements have fared any better than those without mask requirements during the 2020-2021 school year; and
WHEREAS, on April 29, 2021, Florida Surgeon General Dr. Scott Rivkees issued a Public Health Advisory stating that continuing COVID-19 restrictions on individuals, including long-term use of face coverings, pose a risk of adverse and unintended consequences; and
WHEREAS, on June 29, 2021, I signed into law H.B. 241, the Parents’ Bill of Rights, which prevents the state, its subdivisions, or any governmental institution, from infringing on the fundamental rights of a parent to direct the upbringing, education, health care, or mental health of a minor child without demonstrating that such action is reasonable and necessary to achieve a compelling state interest and that such action is narrowly tailored and is not otherwise served by less restrictive means; and
WHEREAS, pursuant to Florida law, all parents have the right to make health care decisions for their minor children; and
WHEREAS, many school districts are scheduled to begin classes on August 10, 2021, which is less than two weeks away, and within four weeks virtually all public schools across Florida will be underway; therefore immediate action is needed to protect the fundamental right of parents to make health and educational decisions for their children; and
WHEREAS, Section 1003.22(3), Florida Statutes, mandates the Florida Department of Health to adopt rules, in consultation with the Florida Department of Education, governing the control of preventable communicable diseases, including procedures for exempting children from immunization requirements; and
WHEREAS, Florida’s State Board of Education, the chief implementing and coordinating body of public education in Florida, has the authority to adopt rules pursuant to Sections 120.536(1), 120.54, and 1001.02, Florida Statutes, and may delegate its general powers to the Commissioner of Education; and
WHEREAS, pursuant to Section 1008.32(4), Florida Statutes, if the State Board of Education determines that a district school board is unwilling or unable to comply with the law, the State Board shall have the authority to, among other things, 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 declare the school district ineligible for competitive grants; and
WHEREAS, given the historical data on COVID-19 and the ongoing debate over whether masks are more harmful than beneficial to children and to school environments in general, we should 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; and
WHEREAS, we should equally and uniformly protect the freedoms and rights of students and parents across the state.
NOW, THEREFORE, I, Ron DeSantis, as Governor of Florida, by virtue of the authority vested in me by Article IV, Section 1(a) of the Florida Constitution, and all other applicable laws, promulgate the following Executive Order, to take immediate effect:
Section 1. I hereby direct the Florida Department of Health and the Florida Department of Education, working together, to immediately execute rules pursuant to section 120.54, Florida Statutes, and take any additional agency action necessary, using all legal means available, to ensure safety protocols for controlling the spread of COVID-19 in schools that:
Do not violate Floridians’ constitutional freedoms;
Do not violate parents’ right under Florida law to make health care decisions for their minor children; and
Protect children with disabilities or health conditions who would be harmed by certain protocols such as face masking requirements.
Section 2. Any action taken pursuant to Section 1 above shall at minimum be in accordance with Florida’s “Parents’ Bill of Rights” and protect parents’ right to make decisions regarding masking of their children in relation to COVID-19.
Section 3. 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 taken pursuant to Section 1 above.
Section 4. This does not prohibit the Florida Legislature from exploring legislation to further protect the fundamental rights of students and parents to be free from excessive, harmful regulation in schools.
Section 5. This Executive Order is effective immediately.
Republicans from across the state praised the order.
“When it comes to mask mandates in our schools, parents need to be involved in the decision for their children. I trust Florida parents to evaluate all of the information available and make the best decision about whether or not their children will be wearing a mask when they return to school next month. I’m grateful to Governor DeSantis for his strong and steady leadership at every stage of the Covid-19 Pandemic and appreciate his leadership on this issue, which is so important to many families across our state,” said state Senate President Wilton Simpson, R-Tribly.
State Senate Minority Leader Lauren Book, D-Plantation, and her leadership team in the Florida Senate took aim at the governor’s action.
“To deploy veiled threats of defunding our children’s education only shows that the governor may have forgotten that in United States of America, public education is a right — not a privilege,” the state Senate Democratic Caucus leadership said. “Threatening to withhold taxpayer dollars for public education because a district abides by national public health guidance is a repugnant and dangerous partisan political ploy. The governor must stop playing games with our children’s health and education.”
On Saturday, Florida saw a single-day record high with 21,683 new cases of COVID.