Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is forcing school districts across the state to do the math by giving all 67 counties the same formula: A face mask mandate = millions in lost state funding.
DeSantis has directed 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," DeSantis said in a Friday statement announcing an executive order. "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."
DeSantis said the order is consistent with HB 241, the Parents’ Bill of Rights, which he signed into law last month.
On July 28, the Broward County school board approved a new face mask mandate, citing the latest Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidance, which recommends that vaccinated residents of high transmission states wear masks in indoor, public settings.
"Despite recent Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) 'guidance,' forcing students to wear masks lacks a well-grounded scientific justification," the order states.
All 67 counties in Florida are considered high transmission areas, according to the CDC's COVID data tracker. The tracker states that Alachua County has 137,917 fully vaccinated residents, which is 51.3 percent of the total population and 58.5 percent of residents age 12 and older.
The positivity rate in Florida as a whole increased in the past week (July 21 to July 27) to 16.51 percent, up 1.53 percent, the data tracker states.
According to the FDOH weekly report for July 23 to July 29, the positivity rate in Alachua County is 14.6 percent. On Friday, the county announced it is bringing back the COVID-19 dashboard as surging case numbers fill up local hospitals.
On Wednesday the school district unveiled its reopening plan, which the School Board of Alachua County (SBAC) will approve at its regular meeting on Tuesday.
Face mask use in schools continues to be a controversial topic at meetings, drawing hours of public comment from parents, staff, and students.
As the draft plan stands, the face mask policy is as follows: "Mask use is strongly encouraged for people who are not fully vaccinated, including students, teachers, staff, visitors, and volunteers. Because children under 12 do not currently have access to vaccinations, it is strongly encouraged that all students under 12 continue to wear masks."
The plan also emphasizes personal choice: "Schools should be supportive of people who are fully vaccinated but choose to continue to wear a mask, as a personal choice or because they have a medical condition that may weaken their immune system."
Teachers and staff return to school on Tuesday to prepare for the Aug. 10 return of students.
All passengers and drivers on school buses continue to be required to wear face masks in compliance with the CDC's face mask guidance that applies to all public transportation.
According to Executive Order 21-175, which is titled "Ensuring Parent's Freedom to Choose - Masks in School," Florida schools will be open five days a week.
The punishment to school districts that adopt a face mask mandate, according to the order, includes the withholding of transfers 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."