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DeSantis order ending local mask rules does not apply to schools

Confusion over the governor’s executive orders Monday prompted the Department of Education to issue a clarification.
Lakewood Elementary School kindergarten students Kennedi Flournoy, 5, (right, front) and Heavenlei McKinnie, 5, (left) work on sight words last month. They will continue to wear masks through the remainder of the school year.
Lakewood Elementary School kindergarten students Kennedi Flournoy, 5, (right, front) and Heavenlei McKinnie, 5, (left) work on sight words last month. They will continue to wear masks through the remainder of the school year. [ JOHN PENDYGRAFT | Times ]
Published May 4
Updated May 4

Gov. Ron DeSantis issued an emergency order on Monday immediately ending “local COVID-19 restrictions and mandates on individuals and businesses.”

It doesn’t apply to school districts.

Facing confusion from school district officials across Florida, the Department of Education issued a statement late in the evening to clarify the governor’s remarks and actions.

Related: DeSantis signs bill banning vaccine ‘passports,’ suspends local pandemic restrictions

The order, effective immediately, suspended pandemic-related local restrictions through June and “only impacts city and county governments, and does NOT impact school districts and individual schools,” the department said.

The same holds true for a second order that invalidates all remaining local emergency COVID-19 orders that are still in place after July 1, according to the clarification. Neither order, it said, impacts “any school district’s policies for the remainder of the 2020-21 school year.

The word came as parents in several communities were organizing on social media to send their children to schools on Tuesday without masks, using the governor’s statements as their rationale.

“Hernando county parents free your kids faces tomorrow for school!!!!” one person wrote on the Fix Hernando Schools Facebook page.

The message prompted a stream of responses, ranging from those who angled for a fight over the face coverings to those who urged patience, noting teachers, principals and students don’t need any added chaos as they continue to take state tests this week.

Manatee County School Board chairman Charlie Kennedy said via Twitter that he had concerns about what might happen Tuesday morning, as well.

“I want to give the (governor) some leeway and say he had no idea the chaos he is about to unleash in schools across FL tomorrow morning,” Kennedy wrote. “Feel bad with kids with (end of course exams) and AP exams. And teachers.”

Now districts have information from the state on how they can respond to any pushback.

Officials in several districts, including Pinellas and Pasco, said they expected to conduct business as usual and enforce their rules. They said principals and teachers know how to deal with students who refuse to wear masks.

Most Florida school districts enacted their mask policies in August, while the pandemic was in full swing. In recent weeks, with increasing pressure from anti-mask advocates, they have been discussing when they might end the requirements and move to a voluntary model.

Many have their existing rules set to expire with the end of the current school year. Education commissioner Richard Corcoran has encouraged districts not to renew their mask policies after they sunset.