Some Florida School Districts Issue Mask Mandates Defying DeSantis' Order

Two Florida school districts are requiring students to wear masks at school, directly defying Governor Ron DeSantis' executive order.

Alachua County Public Schools (ACPS) in Gainsville and Duval County Public Schools (DCPS) in Jacksonville announced mask mandates for students, teachers and staff Tuesday night.

Alachua Schools voted to temporarily mandate masks across the district for the first two weeks of class. The school board will reevaluate and assess the need for masking on August 17.

"In light of dramatic increases in local COVID cases and hospitalizations, including among children, the School Board has voted to require masks for students for the first two weeks of school," Alachua Schools tweeted.

In light of dramatic increases in local COVID cases and hospitalizations, including among children, the School Board has voted to require masks for students for the first two weeks of school. The Board will reevaluate at its August 17 meeting.

— Alachua Schools (@AlachuaSchools) August 4, 2021

The teaching staff and building faculty's mask mandate will be in place until at least September 17, according to a letter sent to Alachua employees.

"I wish we could all move on from COVID. But until rates come down, I have an obligation to do what I can to protect the health and well-being of our ACPS community," ACPS Superintendent Carlee Simon wrote. "While some options are not available to school districts, masking is something we can all do to protect ourselves, our coworkers, and our own families, as well as students and their families."

Kid in Mask at School
Two Florida schools are defying Governor Ron DeSantis' order and mandating masks for the first weeks of class. Above, a child puts her mask back on after finishing lunch at a socially distanced table in the cafeteria of Medora Elementary School on March 17, 2021 in Louisville, Kentucky. Getty Images/Jon Cherry

A parade of parents and teachers gathered outside of the Duval school district headquarters with signs and chants to plead for the school board to issue a mask mandate, according to The Florida Times-Union.

A school board meeting later that evening lasted over four hours in Duval County and resulted in a mask mandate—with a catch. Duval schools will allow parents to opt their children out of the mask requirement.

"Any student not wearing a mask pursuant to this policy must, through his/her/their parent or guardian, complete the opt out procedures provided by his/her/their assigned school," the official language said.

The paperwork caveat is an attempt to comply with an executive order issued by the governor while also giving the community members and parents what they want.

DeSantis issued an executive order on Friday banning public schools from requiring children to wear masks. A number of districts were considering mandating masks in light of new guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that recommended all children wear masks will at school.

Broward County Public Schools in Fort Lauderdale reversed their mask mandate after the executive order was issued.

The executive order was issued to make sure schools "do not violate parents' right under Florida law to make health care decisions for their minor children," according to the order. Districts who do not comply may have their state funding pulled.

"Even if a School Board passes a 'mask mandate,' they will not be able to enforce it, because the choice will be up to parents whether their children wear masks or not," Christina Pushaw, the governor's press secretary, said to Florida Politics on Tuesday.

Pushaw told Newsweek that the governor's office is finalizing the rules associated with the executive order "to protect parents' freedom to choose whether their children wear masks." She said the rules won't ban masks from schools, but rather give parents the option to opt their children out.

"School districts will be expected to allow parents to make this choice," Pushaw said. "If parents are free to choose whether their children wear masks or not, and they can opt-out if they feel that's the best decision for their children, then the mask policies would not run afoul of the [executive order]."

DeSantis holds firm that there is "no empirical evidence" showing any impact on individual counties' positivity rates would come from having children wear masks in schools, according to Pushaw.

"Last year, Florida schools were open the whole academic year. We did not see a significant difference in COVID spread when comparing districts that had mask mandates versus those that were mask optional," she said.

This story was updated at 5:50 p.m. ET with comments from Christina Pushaw.