The school district where Gov. Ron DeSantis forbid officials from requiring masks for students will do so anyway.
The Lee County School District in a Sunday email to parents announced students must cover up when they return to school Tuesday. But there will be an ability for parents to opt out of the requirement.
The decision came as positivity rates for COVID-19 in Lee County soar past 20%.
“The School District of Lee County will require face coverings as a mitigation measure as we begin the 21-22 school year, while respecting parents’ fundamental rights to direct the health care decisions of their child, by allowing them to opt their child out of wearing a face covering or mask,” the email reads.
It’s a controversial move announced less than 36 hours before many parents drop students off for the first day of school. A form will be available for parents to fill out before the start of the school year, but is not yet available and is planned to be released online Monday evening.
The mandate delivers a stunning rebuke of an executive order by the Governor in the county where he promised Florida’s public schools would not have mask mandates in place or they would risk state funding.
“It has harmed students,” DeSantis said of prior mandates. “Shouldn’t this be something parents decide?”
The opt-out clause seems to acknowledge the latter part of the statement. The district is not the first to move forward with a mandate with a built-in out for those parents who strongly object. Palm Beach and Duval counties’ schools also put such a backdoor into policies approved since DeSantis issued his directive.
At least nine other school districts in the state announced mask requirements for at least the beginning of the year.
Meanwhile, the state Department of Education has, rather than threatening full funding, announced it will make HOPE scholarships, a voucher program allowing students to change schools if they are bullied, to move enrollment away from district schools with mandates or any other COVID-19-related “harassing” of students.
The Lee County email to parents laid out the legal reason officials believe they are within their rights to require masks despite the Governor’s executive order.
First off, there’s a rule issued by state Surgeon General Scott Rivkees that lays out clearly students may still wear masks in school. “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,” that rule reads.
it also points out that the Governor’s order builds off the Parents’ Bill of Rights signed into law this year, which allows for parents to hold ultimate authority on medical decisions.
The district noted the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends universal indoor masking for staff, faculty and students age 2 and older, regardless of vaccination status, in high transmission areas. The American Academy of Pediatrics also recommends the same.
The decision was made by interim Superintendent of Schools Kenneth Savage based on authority granted by the School Board early in the pandemic.
“We have also heard the concerns raised by parents and stakeholders, both those who support and oppose a mask requirement,” the email states. “We believe that requiring masks with an opt-out, ensures that we are doing all we can to keep our students and employees safe, while supporting our community’s efforts to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 and respecting the fundamental rights of parents to direct the health care of their children.”
Last updated on August 8, 2021