DeSantis dings SBAC for requiring masks

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis publicly knocked the School Board of Alachua County (SBAC) on Thursday for requiring students to wear masks during the first two weeks of school.

“Alachua County can’t override the parents,” DeSantis said at a press conference in Tampa. “That’s pretty clear from the Parents’ Bill of Rights that I signed, and quite frankly, I think it’s the right thing to do.”

The comments came in response to a question about reports that DeSantis had given Alachua County a two-week “reprieve” from his executive action that sought to block school districts from passing mask mandates—or risk losing some state funding. On Tuesday, SBAC unanimously approved a two-week mandate anyway, citing a recent sharp increase in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations.

“I don’t know what they’re talking about,” DeSantis said about the reports of a reprieve. “It’s parents’ choice in Florida, and government can’t override the parents.”

DeSantis noted the state board of education will meet Friday to discuss proposed rules for school districts that pass mask mandates.

Last week the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued revised guidance recommending that all students, teachers and staff wear masks when they return to school this month, regardless of vaccination status. DeSantis called the guidance “unscientific and inconsistent” in his executive order.

At Thursday’s press conference a reporter asked DeSantis about six Tampa attorneys who are planning a lawsuit over the ban on mask mandates, which they say is unconstitutional. DeSantis cited the recently passed Parents’ Bill of Rights, which prohibits the state from infringing on parental rights in upbringing, education, health care and mental health, unless a “compelling state interest” exists.

“We believe the Parents’ Bill of Rights was a good bill to sign, and we believe that because the Legislature passed that, providing parents with this choice [on masks] flows directly from that—and we think we’ll win [in court],” DeSantis said. “We also—I think you’ll see we obviously have backup plans in case there’s any hiccup along the way.”

In addition to Alachua County, the Duval County School Board passed a mask mandate this week, and other school districts are considering it. Alachua County students are scheduled to return to the classroom on Tuesday, Aug. 10.

The mask issue comes amid another ongoing dispute involving SBAC and the governor’s office. In June, DeSantis declared SBAC member Diyonne McGraw’s seat vacant over a residency issue, despite protests from McGraw and her allies that he was overstepping his authority. DeSantis said he would appoint someone to fill the seat, but he has given no timetable for doing so. 

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