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Gov. DeSantis Announces Plans to Bar Schools from Imposing Mask Mandates

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John Davis, WGCU
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Gov. DeSantis announces plans to sign an executive order barring Florida School Districts from imposing mask mandates, Friday in Cape Coral

Amid a resurgence of COVID-19 infections and with the start of a new school year just weeks away, Governor Ron DeSantis, Friday, announced plans to sign an executive order barring schools in Florida from imposing mask mandates.

DeSantis announced the new executive order at a media conference at a Cape Coral restaurant, packed with cheering supporters. Standing at a podium emblazoned with a sign reading “Free to choose,” DeSantis said schools are low risk environments.

“A study out of Brown University looked at case rates at schools in Florida, Massachusetts and New York, and they found, this is a very credible study, no correlation of case rates and mask mandates. In other words, you had schools that did not have mandates that had similar outcomes as the ones that did require it,” said DeSantis.

“Very soon I’ll be signing an executive order which directs the Florida Department of Education and the Department of Health to issue emergency rules protecting the rights of parents to make this decision about wearing masks for their children. We think that that’s the most fair way to do it.”

The latest guidance on the pandemic from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention calls for universal masking in K-12 schools regardless of an individual’s vaccination status. This new guidance is based on the dominance of the highly transmissible and more virulent Delta variant. DeSantis did not mention the Delta variant at Friday’s event, but said “We’re not consigned by what some bureaucracy says.”

Earlier this week, Broward County School District officials decided to make mask wearing mandatory. School districts in Southwest Florida have opted to make mask wearing optional for the coming school year.

As the press conference was wrapping up, the statewide teacher’s union, the Florida Education Association released a statement calling on DeSantis to allow local elected officials to make decisions about COVID protocols based on conditions in their area.

In a statement, FEA President Andrew Spar writes, “Whether it is mandating a pay plan that requires teachers with 15 years of experience to be paid the same as a first-year teacher or telling locally elected officials they cannot enforce recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatrics, Gov. DeSantis continues to think that Tallahassee knows best what all Floridians need. We reject that kind of thinking. Instead, we ask Gov. DeSantis to allow all Florida’s citizens to have a voice by empowering the elected leaders of cities, counties and school districts to make health and safety decisions locally based on their unique needs and circumstances.”

Meanwhile, Lee Health reported Friday that the number of coronavirus patients being treated in the health systems hospitals has increased to 238, including 23 on ventilators and 40 in intensive care. These numbers include patients in Cape Coral hospital about five miles from where the governor announced the new pending executive order.

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