By Ryan Dailey, The News Service of Florida
TALLAHASSEE — Local school officials continue to grapple with implementing student mask policies as the school year begins this week in many counties.
And as school districts navigate a requirement that parents be able to opt out of mask mandates for their children, the state is looking to target local school officials who don’t comply with the restriction.
Gov. Ron DeSantis issued an executive order on July 30 aimed at barring local school boards from imposing mask mandates for students.
Triggered by the governor’s order, the state Department of Health on Friday approved a new rule that, in part, requires school mask mandates to allow parents to opt out of the requirement.
“Students may wear masks or facial coverings as a mitigation measure; however, the school must allow for a parent or legal guardian of the student to opt-out the student from wearing a face covering or mask,” the health department’s rule said.
Following the agency’s approval of the new rule, various school districts have announced mask policies that include an opt-out provision — but they are approaching the issue in different ways.
Palm Beach County Superintendent Michael Burke, for example, issued an updated mask policy over the weekend that includes a provision allowing parents to opt out of the mask requirement for their children without having to provide an explanation.
“In order to opt-out, parents who do not want their student wearing a facial covering must send a signed note to the school informing the child’s first-period teacher of this decision,” Burke wrote in a letter to parents and staff.
At least one school district, however, is requiring parents who want their children to opt out of wearing a mask to provide a medical reason for the exception.
Leon County Schools Superintendent Rocky Hanna held a press conference Monday detailing a temporary mask requirement for elementary- and middle-school students when they return to campuses Wednesday.
“As hard as this is for me, I am going to require masks to be worn by all students (in grades) PreK through eight,” Hanna said, “unless otherwise noted by a physician or a psychologist that the child has a health condition and there is a health reason as to why they really should not be wearing a mask in school, for either physical or mental health reasons.”
DeSantis’ spokeswoman Christina Pushaw said that districts requiring a doctor’s note for students to be excused from wearing a mask are not following the governor’s order.
“All parents deserve the freedom to choose whether to opt out their own child. This should not be contingent on their ability to procure a doctor’s note. These policies violate the spirit of the EO (executive order) protecting parents’ freedom to choose,” Pushaw told The News Service of Florida in an email Monday.
DeSantis’ order, in part, directed state Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran to withhold funds from “noncompliant” school boards that impose mask requirements during the school year.
Pushaw didn’t say directly whether districts requiring a doctor’s note to opt out of mask wearing would be subject to the withholding of funds as threatened in the governor’s order. But she provided new details about how the financial penalties might be applied.
It “would be the goal of the State Board of Education to narrowly tailor any financial consequences to the offense committed,” Pushaw said.
Pushaw said that, for example, the state board could “move to withhold the salary of the district superintendent or school board members, as a narrowly tailored means to address the decision-makers who led to the violation of law.”
But Mark Richard, a lawyer whose clients include the Florida Education Association, questioned whether the governor and top state officials are overstepping their legal authority.
“The first legal question that is raised by the department’s rule is, does the executive branch — the governor and the department — even have a legal authority to be usurping the obligations of a local school district?” Richard told the News Service Monday.
Richard maintained that elected school officials have constitutional duties to provide a safe education for schoolchildren.
“The second challenge will be, is it clear enough … that it is a parent’s choice to opt out,” Richard said. “The difficulty from a legal point of view … is what about the parents’ choices to make sure their kids are safe?”
Richard said there are “many critical legal questions” being raised by the DeSantis administration’s rule.
“They’re looking down the barrel of a Department of Health regulation that says unvaccinated students can come to school regardless of the danger that it might present to their classmates or to the staff,” Richard said.
Hanna addressed the uncertainty facing his school district during his Monday press conference.
“I know this speaks against what the Department of Health said, what our governor has said, what our state Board of Education says,” Hanna said of Leon County’s school mask mandate. “At the end of the day, if something happened and things went sideways for us this week and next week as we started school, and heaven forbid we lost a child to this virus, I can’t just simply blame the governor.”
Instead, Hanna added, he would blame himself for not taking the action he felt was appropriate to keep students safe.
“If there’s an out and I didn’t take the out, and I didn’t do what was best for the children here in Tallahassee and Leon County, that’s on me. And every time I looked at myself in the mirror it would be really hard to answer to that guy,” Hanna said.
DeSantis repeatedly has emphasized that families should be allowed to choose whether children should wear masks throughout the school day.
Pushaw’s email to the News Service Monday pointed to the governor’s comments.
“I also wanted to reiterate what Governor DeSantis has said several times in public remarks — there are potential downsides to masking children for eight hours per day, from a developmental, emotional, academic, and medical perspective,” she wrote.
Very sad to see the people who are supposed to be educating our children fall victim to fake news and hysteria. If they were really the smart people they would know that not a single child under the age of 12 has died FROM COVID not just with it. They would also know that no publicly available mask can prevent the spread of any virus and it even says that on the box and that includes the infamous N95 masks. The pores in the mask material are 3 times the size of a virus particle so they are useless in disease prevention but they can cause you to develop bacterial lung infections and skin rashes on the face.
I do have to wonder if the masking decrees are about public health or public control.
If you can smell a fart, you mask isn’t protecting you from anything.
Masks don’t fucking work. You fucking morons!
Hey so about the red light argument. If anyone has ever been to South America red lights and stop signs are basically treated as suggestions. You can choose to obey them or not, although traffic is extremely hectic….Just saying
@ deepstatepropagandist… the red light argument is a false equivalent, and I think you know that. But you obviously agree that it is indeed a parents choice. There’s hope for you yet. 🙂
“My Body; My Choice”… it not just for killing innocent babies anymore.
That is hilarious and the height of conservative humor. Good one!
In a more serious light, the move by DeSantis was bad and looks dumber every time he tries to double down. First he threatened the funding of the districts. Oops, counties *where children are being hospitalized* said, ‘Go ahead’ and pushed up mask mandates. Realizing how awful the head line of ‘DeSantis wants to defund the schools during a pandemic’ would look, he’s like, ‘well, I won’t pay the salary of school administrators’. And Rocky says, “You can’t put a price tag on someone’s life, including my salary.”
Imagine getting roasted by Rocky Hanna! That’s a sad place to be, yet DeSantis is there. There is *no way* DeSantis is going to withhold his salary, *because it makes him look like a lunatic* and a crybaby. Wanna make a bet that DeSantis won’t step forward with his flaccid threat?
I for, one, think that I should have the freedom to not stop at red lights. I mean, if other parents want to, that’s fine. But for *my children*, I’m choosing not to obey ‘red light mandates’.
Some intestinal fortitude is lacking, Mr. Hanna. Sure seems like job preservation in a blue county. Geez.
Surely you must wake up everyday thinking it is opposite day as that is the only way anyone can rationalize your rants.
You mask and quarantine sick people to protect others.
You mask and quarantine healthy people because you are a tyrant.
Just when I thought DeSantis couldn’t think with any less forward vision, he makes an even dumber threat to try to placate the mouth breathers who think picking a fight with schools about children safety is a good idea because ‘muh freedums!’
I’d love to see him follow through with it, frankly, and then have Rocky set up a GoFundMe where every dollar raised over his salary goes to lunches for Leon county children, or special education, or scholarships.
I don’t even like Rocky but DeSantis is so far in the wrong that he’s turned him into one of the good guys. Wow.
Agreed that the insubordination by Hanna needs to be criminalized. As for now hold all their salaries and make them pay, literally. This isn’t the first time Rocky Hanna has messed up the first day of school. He is a terrorist in his own right. May God have mercy on his soul.
I will add that the major failure on DeSantis’ part is not calling a special session or doing this last session and criminalize mask mandates by any local or state official, including any future Governor. Governor Kim Reynolds of Iowa signed into law back in May this very type of legislation. DeSantis needs to stop with his nonsense Executive Orders and emergency rules. Criminalize the actions of these sociopathic, psychotic Branch Covidian Cultists who pretend to feign concern over our kids while forcing them to re-breathe their own excrement for up to 6 hours a day and scaring the hell out of them into thinking they are walking contagions. Truly evil.
VERY SHOCKING TO SEE THE EXECUTIVE of the Great State of Florida create an executive order that punishes elected officials from protecting our children? Mr. DeSantis has made the worst possible and dangerous decision.
The State of Florida deserves to know that its’ executive is using science, case numbers, and common sense before politics (or so it appears). Florida is in almost the worst possible position with new cases that cause 7x more risk of death in kids who don’t yet have the chance to get vaccinated. What Governor would ever do such a thing at a time like this?
Department of Health Emergency Rule 64DER21-12
(1)(d) Students may wear masks or facial coverings as a mitigation measure; however. the school must allow for a parent or legal guardian of the student to opt-out the student from wearing a face covering or mask.
I’ve read the whole DOH emergency rule and it’s a joke. This excerpt is what Kommissar Scruel Stuperindent Hanna is using to muzzle our kids and weasel the mask mandate. These sociopathic, psychotic, child abusing Scruel Kommissars throughout the state jumped at this and ran with it. Know your freaking enemy DeSantis. You never give them any room to weasel their cultist agenda.
DeSantis needs to put up or shut up. This is no longer a joke. We are at war with Covidstan and exchanging legal pleasantries with Covidstan Cultists is no longer an option. They clearly have no desire for open dialog and open conversations about appropriate health remedies. If DeSantis had any stones he would drop the hammer on these garbage Cultists and inform the courts to try to enforce their own insane decisions. Heck, I would certainly open an investigation if not outright arrest Kommissar Woods for attempting to Dox the Governor’s children. Sadly, I don’t think he will do anything.
So, after reading everything, is it still mask optional for high schoolers?
Hanna stated that there was a change to the qurantine based on the Depr of Ed Emergency Rule…reducing the quarantine to 4-5 days for unvaccinated students. Yet, the Executive Rule states “students” not “unvaccinated students.” I was wondering if LCS received some other clarification from FL DOE on this issue. Seeing how there have been reports of the vaccinated developing COVID, shouldn’t the rule be applied to all students instead of just the unvaccinated students?
If Rocky Hannah truly cared about your children, more than 49% would be able to write in complete sentences and balance an equation.
Rocky Hannah cares about Rocky Hannah.
That’s what you get! U mess with DeSantis, face the consequences!
There should be no opt-in or opt-out. It’s a choice that rests solely with the individual and/or his or her Parents… PERIOD.
My Body; My Choice… it’s not just for killing innocent babies anymore.