As Florida contends with a massive surge in COVID cases, Governor Ron DeSantis seems devoted to making it more difficult to stop the spread in public schools.
On Monday, the day many Florida students headed back to school, DeSantis issued a statement making clear that any school administrator who imposes a mask mandate, in violation of his executive order banning such rules, could face financial consequences. Specifically, he suggested that “the State Board of Education 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.”
Many Florida school districts have indeed imposed mask mandates, but most are unlikely to run afoul of DeSantis, since they provide carve-outs for parents who don’t want to comply. Christina Pushaw, a spokeswoman for DeSantis, said on Twitter that the penalties DeSantis is threatening wouldn’t apply to such schools. Those that require a doctor’s note to opt out, though, could be in the crosshairs.
In any case, multiple school administrators said they would ignore DeSantis’s threats. Alberto M. Carvalho, the superintendent of Miami public schools, said, “At no point shall I allow my decision to be influenced by a threat to my paycheck.”
Multiple lawsuits are also challenging the governor’s ban on mask mandates.
Children are far less likely to experience severe effects from COVID than older populations. But in recent weeks, as the Delta variant sweeps through the U.S., an alarming number of children are getting seriously ill — though it is difficult to know whether this is just a function of more total people contracting the virus, or if the variant is making kids sicker. Those 12 and under are not yet eligible for the vaccine, and DeSantis pronounced mask-wearing ineffective as a virus prevention tool when he signed the order banning mandates.
Florida, meanwhile, is getting slammed with the virus. Though it is more vaccinated than many states in the South, with about 50 percent of its population fully inoculated, it is seeing its biggest surge cases throughout the pandemic, with upward of 20,000 a day, per the CDC. (The state’s estimate is lower.) It is also experiencing record hospitalizations.
But as parents’ concerns mount, DeSantis, who has presented himself as a freedom-loving red-state counterpart to cautious blue-state governors (while looking ahead to 2024), is not changing course. His strategy of fully reopening the state early seemed to pay off when Florida didn’t initially experience the surge in cases many predicted. Now that it has, he’s plowing ahead anyway.
“We can either have a free society or we can have a biomedical security state,” he said last week. “And I can tell you, Florida, we’re a free state.”
This brand of freedom might not be looking so hot to a lot of Floridian parents right now.