Gov. DeSantis spox warns school districts must allow mask opt-outs

Duval has an 'opt-out,' Alachua went farther.

Ahead of decisions to require masks in Alachua County schools and to force the maskless to “opt out” in Duval, a spokesperson for Gov. Ron DeSantis advised caution.

On Wednesday, though, her position was modified somewhat, allowing wiggle room from what was once presented as an ironclad mask mandate ban in schools. Masks can be required; students, however, should be able to be opted out.

DeSantis’ press secretary Christina Pushaw told WJXT that the state was “finalizing health and education emergency rules that do not prohibit masks in schools but will require parents to have the right to opt their children out.”

The seeming rhetorical relaxation came after a more sweeping statement Tuesday evening, as districts deliberated how to get around what was presented as a categorical ban on mask mandates in schools.

“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,” Pushaw said when asked about Duval Tuesday evening, noting that the matter is one of rulemaking between the Florida Department of Health and the Florida Department of Education at this point.

That rulemaking, she said, would require optionality, seemingly without mandates or “opt outs” from implied rules.

“Some parents will choose to mask their children,” Pushaw said, while others will “follow the science and data that shows masking can have serious adverse effects, with limited data demonstrating any benefits in the school setting.”

“School districts are within their rights to recommend the wearing of masks on their campus. They just cannot require students to wear masks,” Pushaw said.

DeSantis has spoken forcefully against the idea that students should be “muzzled,” but clearly workarounds are possible, despite the absolutist rhetoric from the Governor up until now.

One threat considered in Jacksonville ahead of the vote for the opt-out policy: the threatened cut of funding to school districts with mask mandates.

Cautions were voiced, but the bet was on the opt-out option. An amendment to the student code of conduct “strongly recommending” student masks with an opt-out was passed 5-2, seemingly complying with the current mood of the Governor’s office.

Meanwhile, in Alachua County, masks were mandated for two weeks. It remains to be seen how that will play out.


A.G. Gancarski

A.G. Gancarski has written for since 2014. He is based in Northeast Florida. He can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter: @AGGancarski


  • Andrew Finn

    August 3, 2021 at 9:07 pm

    Hey “Florida Fuhrer” — Mask mandates ARE enforceable in Florida. If you can make people wear a shirt and shoes (“no shirt – no shoes – no service”) in establishments, then you can make them wear a mask !!!!!!

    • Matthew Lusk

      August 4, 2021 at 1:10 pm

      Can you make them wear duct tape across Their mouth and noses? 100% effective.

    • Danny K

      August 4, 2021 at 6:41 pm

      Have you ever been to Florida? No shirt, No shoes, No problem. I don’t have to sign any opt out policy. A couple of guys signed for me in 1776

  • Frankie M.

    August 3, 2021 at 9:14 pm

    We enforced them last year. I believe DeSantis executive order usurping local school board control is unenforceable not to mention unconstitutional.

  • Frankie M.

    August 3, 2021 at 9:21 pm

    Comments from Jacksonville’s General Counsel advised that it would be a “lengthy discussion” to see if a challenge could work.

    Is this the same General Counsel who advised the school board that they could not sue the city to put a sales tax referendum on the ballot? Isn’t Gabriel part of Lenny’s boys club? Pardon me if I don’t put any stock in what comes out of that office. Gabriel can’t flee to the private sector fast enough for me. Probably one step ahead of a JEA grand jury summons.

  • Frankie M.

    August 3, 2021 at 11:01 pm

    The non-mandate mandate went through! How you like them apples Lenny & Ronnie?

  • Frankie M.

    August 4, 2021 at 8:16 am

    “Does the opt-out qualify as a mandate? Duval hopes not”

    Short answer: Who gives a shit?

    If Ronnie & Lenny don’t like it they can sign an opt out clause or send their kids to one of those fabulous charter/private schools like your alma mater AG. What’s Ronnie gonna do? Block the non-mandate with another XO? No guvmint overreach there. Tonight was a win, not just for Duval, but for local counties who have seen their authority usurped the last decade & a half by Republican leadership. It isn’t as far as I would’ve gone but sometimes a walk is as good as a hit. And with the slump Duval school leadership has been in for awhile that walk feels like a grand slam.

  • Matthew Lusk

    August 4, 2021 at 1:14 pm

    Send school tax dollars to the parents, not the schools, and the free market will Choose the best. Guaran-damn-tee it.

  • PeterH

    August 4, 2021 at 4:28 pm

    Fun Fact:

    There is a shortage of classroom teachers across the State of Florida!

    So teachers are now expected to monitor and enforce which students must wear a mask and which students are exempt from wearing a mask. How is this enforced? I’m sure someone in the DeSantis administration will respond!

    In other news today ….Arkansas Republican Governor William Asa Hutchinson II signed a similar mandate ban for schools in Arkansas. With the dramatic rise of Covid in his State …..he now regrets signing the bill into law.

    Unfortunately, even if a simple majority of his Republican legislators agree to repeal their stupid legislation ….. the Arkansas legal system requires 90 days before the repeal can be enforced.

    Real conservatives should join like minded conservatives at the Lincoln Project. The current crop of Republican elected officials are so incompetent that a new direction and vision needs to be established.

    • Dawn Davis

      August 8, 2021 at 2:57 am

      Lincoln project is garbage!

  • Frankie M.

    August 4, 2021 at 7:21 pm

    Pretty flimsy indeed…

    “It is a loosely written riff on the governor’s political views on masking and parental rights chock-full of entirely unenforceable ‘Whereas’ clauses designed to garnish newspaper, television and Twitter soundbites, rather than judicial support in the event of inevitable lawsuits,” CNN legal analyst Paul Callan said.
    Columbia Law School professor Richard Briffault, who specializes in state and local government law, said similar.
    “The executive order is no more than a glorified press release telling Florida health and education officials to write rules that follow Florida law,” said Briffault

  • Lori Hancock

    August 4, 2021 at 7:38 pm

    Here is the letter sent out in Alachua County and the opt out form violates medical privacy and recognizes the “mental health” ramifications of masking.

    Dear Alachua County Public School families and staff:

    Just a few weeks ago, we were all planning for a more ‘normal’ start to the school year. Unfortunately COVID–particularly the more infectious and dangerous Delta variant–has changed those plans.

    During last night’s School Board meeting, several doctors and health experts representing UF Health, North Florida Regional Medical Center, the Alachua County Health Department, Alachua Fire Rescue and other organizations shared alarming news about COVID in our community. There’s been a huge increase in cases and hospitalizations, including among previously healthy children. Intensive care units are reaching and sometimes exceeding capacity. At times, the county has run short on ambulances because of the spike in COVID cases, which has increased response times.

    ACPS is experiencing this spike first-hand. Over the weekend two of our employees passed away from COVID. The number of employees testing positive for COVID has jumped in the past two weeks, even before most of them are back from summer break. We’ve had 18 new cases in the last three days alone. More than 80 employees are now in quarantine, and that number is rising fast. Many of them have symptoms and are waiting for test results.

    We want our schools to be open, because we know that’s best for children. But if this trend continues, we may not have enough people to operate our schools safely.

    For these reasons, the School Board has decided to require masks for students for the first two weeks of the school year. At its August 17 meeting, the Board will reevaluate that policy.

    The district had already taken the step of requiring all employees, vendors and visitors to our schools and facilities to wear masks starting immediately and running through at least September 17. That would include Meet Your Teacher/orientation sessions later this week.

    In keeping with our Face Coverings Policy, families may request that their child opt out of wearing a mask by submitting a form signed by a doctor. Schools will also continue to provide mask breaks throughout the day.

    Our goal is to keep schools open, protect our students, staff and families and help this community avoid an even bigger health crisis. We certainly don’t want to make it harder for the citizens of Alachua County to get the emergency and medical care they need by adding to the spread of COVID.

    With your support, we can help bring this virus under control and look forward to a return to normal sooner rather than later. More importantly, we can help prevent more needless illness and deaths.


    Carlee Simon, Ph.D.
    Alachua County Public Schools

    • Matthew Lusk

      August 5, 2021 at 1:29 pm

      A school board’s collective decisions can certainly orchestrate a need for remedial education. Blatant Brain Freeze extroadinaire.

  • Matthew Lusk

    August 5, 2021 at 1:09 pm

    Public schools are a blight on the nation. So much marxist- facist propaganda is taught. Defund and eliminate state run schools. Free up a child’s mind for learning. Private market demand will elevate the best teachers and they will merit their increase in pay. Pitiful dork and Karen teachers will have to find new jobs that they are more suited too. All parents deserve to spend their school voucher where they see fit. Do you really think they will spend it on a rotten school?

  • Sonja Fitch

    August 5, 2021 at 3:34 pm

    We are America. We do the best for common good. Health care. Housing. Education . The top three that makes America the best.

  • Johny Reb

    August 6, 2021 at 1:52 am

    Public schools are a joke now. The liberal/socialist have destroyed them with their white guilt indoctrination, critical race theory. Parents should homeschool their children.

  • Dawn Davis

    August 8, 2021 at 2:52 am

    The science proves most masks do absolutely nothing but cause rashes on kids faces. In addition, they also help concentrate harmful viral, bacterial etc around your breathing ports and make it hard to breathe fresh air. Liberal politics fear-mongering is about all that has been accomplished by the many crackpot theories for a solution- the pharma. Corporations have not had enough time to prove the safety of these vaccines – you can’t believe the people behind pharma. and that includes politicians trying to make a name for themselves by “selling”an unknown to be safe solution as “the Safe”alternative.

Comments are closed.


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