Nikki Fried enlists Duval 12-year-old in fight against Ron DeSantis’ school mask rules
Does Nikki Fried get jazz hands? Image via Jason Delgado.

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Lila Hartley is vaccinated, but she fears for her younger brother, who isn't.

Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried is asking school boards to defy Gov. Ron DeSantis‘ “authoritarian” order against school mask mandates and for parents to mask their children even if it’s not required.

In an online press conference Monday, Fried featured a Duval County middle school student, 12-year-old Lila Hartley, who wrote a letter to her county School Board advocating for a mask mandate to protect children who haven’t been vaccinated yet.

The Department of Education and Department of Health moved forward with emergency rules Friday that would make school vouchers available for children to transfer from schools that require masks for students without an opt-out policy. That followed DeSantis’ executive order, which he issued late last month amid rising COVID-19 and delta variant cases. Florida has seen record-breaking hospitalizations and case loads since then, but DeSantis and the administration stand firm in their threat against school boards.

Several school districts, including Duval County Public Schools, start classes this week.

“This schtick is unacceptable — this authoritarian ‘it’s his way or the highway’ and at the expense of our children,” Fried said. “You’re not hurting the school board members by taking away funding. You’re hurting Lila and her friends.”

Fried, Florida’s lone statewide-elected Democrat and a candidate for Governor, called it schools’ constitutional duty to protect their students, including their health. The virus is the enemy, not children, she added.

“I need our school boards to understand that you’re making a decision whether to follow the Governor and to put political and potential ramifications on the line or do what’s best for the health and safety of our children,” Fried said.

On Thursday, Fried announced she was working with the White House to find a way to sidestep DeSantis’ mask-optional order and provide funding to school boards who run afoul of the emergency mask rules. The commissioner reinforced that statement Monday, but didn’t provide any solutions proposed by the Joe Biden administration.

“Don’t focus on the political and financial ramifications. We will get your back because you are doing what’s right for our children,” Fried said.

Hartley’s letter to the Duval County School Board was picked up by national media last week. Hartley, whose father has organized rallies in support of requiring masks in schools, told NBC News she wrote the letter because she wanted the School Board to know it’s not just parents who are concerned.

“I am so worried that if masks are not required my brother could go to school one day and the next be dying in the hospital,” Hartley wrote.

She is vaccinated, but her brother and some of her friends aren’t.

“It’s definitely a little bit scary, because I don’t know what it’s gonna be like at school with masks and everything and whether I am going to be in danger of getting my family or myself sick,” Hartley said.

DeSantis has compared masks to muzzles for young children. However, Fried noted that children wear seatbelts in cars and get other vaccines before going to school.

Despite the Governor’s mask-optional order, several county school boards are moving forward with alternative mandates, including mask rules for employees and visitors or while students are on buses. Duval County public school students must wear masks unless their parents opt them out.

DeSantis has fundraised off the order, but has also suffered pushback from Democrats, including Biden, who dismissed him as “Governor who?” when asked by a reporter Thursday.

Renzo Downey

Renzo Downey covers state government for Florida Politics. After graduating from Northwestern University in 2019, Renzo began his reporting career in the Lone Star State, covering state government for the Austin American-Statesman. Shoot Renzo an email at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @RenzoDowney.


  • Matthew Lusk

    August 9, 2021 at 1:15 pm

    You didn’t exactly explain why the little brother is not vaccinated even though it’s experimental gene therapy and not technically a vaccine.

  • Michelle

    August 12, 2021 at 10:43 am

    Obviously the school is not teaching what “authoritarian” means. It is “authoritarian” to mandate that ALL comply. Ron is making it voluntary. No one is stopping kids from wearing masks. By the way, there is not one study that show that masking kids is effective, yet there are many that shows it is a detriment. Think for yourselves, no one needs the government to mandate how you behave.

Comments are closed.


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