Agricultural Commissioner Nikki Fried added her voice Wednesday to the chorus of Democrats demanding Gov. Ron DeSantis stay out of local politics.
In a statement, Fried — a gubernatorial contender — chastised DeSantis for denying local school boards the authority to implement mask mandates on school grounds.
The executive order, she warned, threatens children’s lives.
“Now is the time for parents and teachers to stand up and make their concerns about this unacceptable government overreach known,” Fried said in a prepared statement. “We should not be playing politics with the lives of Florida’s kids, especially given reports that children account for nearly 1 in 5 new COVID-19 cases in our state.”
Indeed, COVID-19 cases are rising among Florida’s youth.
According to the Florida Department of Health, 10,785 kids below the age of 12 tested positive for COVID-19 last week.
The increase marks a dramatic shift between the novel coronavirus and its more contagious delta variant. In the year past, children proved far less susceptible to the virus than adults.
For his part, DeSantis maintains students are still welcome to wear masks. The decision, however, rests with parents rather than government.
“I think the White House tried to say I prohibited parents from making that decision,” DeSantis told reporters Tuesday. “It’s just the opposite. We’re empowering them.”
Notably, school boards and counties are moving forward with alternative public health measures.
On Wednesday, Leon County School Superintendent Rocky Hanna mandated employees wear masks indoors when within six-feet of students when school starts next week.
Orange County announced similar plans on Wednesday, ordering employees and visitors to wear masks rather than students.
The Governor’s order, signed Friday, is unclear as to whether it applies only to students, or all school staff as well.
The order further authorizes Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran to “pursue all legal means available to ensure school districts adhere to Florida law.”
Among other methods, the state may withhold funds from non-compliant school districts.
“Local school boards and counties should have the authority to make decisions that are in the best interest of their students, teachers, and communities — without facing political retribution,” Fried added.