About Half of Florida Schoolchildren Under Mask Mandates as More Districts Resist State Ban

Roughly more than half of Florida's 2.8 million schoolchildren in public schools are under mask mandates as more districts resist the state's ban on enforcing them, a rule imposed by Gov. Ron DeSantis, the Associated Press reported.

Currently, at least ten Florida school districts are going against DeSantis' executive order that bans schools from mandating masks and leaves the decision up to a child's parent instead. The defiance comes after COVID-19's delta variant caused a surge in cases across the state as schools were preparing to begin in-person classes this month.

In Orange County, where Orlando is located, many students began to test positive for the virus. The county's school district reported positive cases of 1,968 students since the beginning of school this year as the district's online dashboard shows 1,491 people currently quarantining.

A three-day hearing in Tallahassee involving the state's rule ordered by DeSantis and parents that support mask mandates in schools will soon come to a conclusion with a ruling on Wednesday.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

Florida Student Wearing a Mask
About more than half of students in Florida's public schools are under mask mandates as more school districts resist the state's ban on enforcing them. In this photo, a student wears face mask as they attend their first day in school after summer vacation at the St. Lawrence Catholic School in north of Miami, on August 18, 2021. Chandan Khanna/AFP via Getty Images

A majority of school board members in Orange County told the superintendent on Tuesday to require most students to wear masks, and agreed with her recommendation to keep the mandate through Oct. 30.

The district began its school year this month with a parental opt-out, but a surge in students across the Orlando area testing positive for COVID-19 has disrupted classes.

The Orange County board said they want to challenge the legality of a Florida Department of Health rule enforcing the ban.

In Fort Lauderdale on Tuesday, the Broward County School Board told the Department of Education that it won't back down on its mask policy, which gives parents a medical opt-out for students. The board said parents don't have an unlimited right to send their kids to school without a mask, adding that it would infringe on the rights of other parents who want their children to be safe.

The state had given Broward and Alachua counties until Tuesday to end their mask mandates. Broward's students began school a week ago with a mask policy in place. State officials have threatened to withhold funding equal to school board salaries if a district doesn't comply. Those funds make up less than 1 percent of each district's budget.

"We believe that the district is in compliance. We don't believe that we have done anything inappropriate as it relates to the executive order and the rule of the Department of Education," Rosalind Osgood, chairwoman of the Broward School Board, said Tuesday.

The three-day hearing that pits pro-mask parents against the DeSantis administration and state education officials was wrapping up on Wednesday. The state contends that parents, not schools, should choose whether their children cover up in classrooms.

The highly contagious delta variant led to record high hospitalizations in Florida just as schools prepared to reopen classrooms this month. By mid-August, more than 21,000 new cases were being added per day, compared with about 8,500 a month earlier. However, new cases and hospitalizations have leveled off over the past week. There were 16,820 people being treated for the disease in Florida hospitals Tuesday, U.S. Health Department figures showed, down from a record high above 17,000 last week.

About 6 in 10 Americans say students and teachers should be required to wear face masks while in school, according to a poll from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research.