DeSantis banned school mask mandates. Can he do that?

A roundup of Florida education news from around the state.
Zachary Ashcroft, 16, wears a Mickey Mouse mask on the first day of school in 2020 for Hillsborough County students. For 2021, most school districts have made masks optional.
Zachary Ashcroft, 16, wears a Mickey Mouse mask on the first day of school in 2020 for Hillsborough County students. For 2021, most school districts have made masks optional. [ MARTHA ASENCIO RHINE | Times ]
Published Aug. 2, 2021|Updated Aug. 2, 2021

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis hasn’t been shy about his opposition to school mask mandates, regardless of advice from the Centers for Disease Control and a leading national association of pediatricians. Unable to get a special legislative session to ban them, he issued an order Friday to have his administration financially penalize any school districts that impose a requirement. Read on for that story and more Florida education news.

At the time of his action, two of the state’s 67 districts had announced plans to require masks. DeSantis critics panned his proposal, based on the concept of protecting parental rights, as an overreach into local government responsibilities. • Palm Beach County school district lawyers are reviewing whether the governor has the authority to issue his edict, the Palm Beach Post reports. • DeSantis kept up his rhetorical drumbeat against masking on Fox News over the weekend, Florida Politics reports.

The debate is fracturing local communities and school boards. Hillsborough board member Jessica Vaughn took steps to make clear she backs a mask requirement, even if her colleagues did not.

The governor’s announcement prompted some creative ideas among districts. Duval County school officials said they’d require all adults to wear masks in the schools, but not the students, the Florida Times-Union reports. • Brevard County board members said they will consider limited mask rules for the new school year, but not an overarching mandate, Florida Today reports. • The Orange County school district offered employees a $200 incentive to get vaccinated by November, the Orlando Sentinel reports.

A top pediatrician in the state dismissed the governor’s ‘parental choice’ argument. “It’s a parent’s prerogative to be able to make choices and decisions for their children. But if they want to go to public school, they have to abide by public health measures. And that is putting a mask on,” Dr. Lisa Gwynn, president of the American Academy of Pediatrics Florida chapter told WLRN.

Some Palm Beach County teachers hinted at a walkout over the governor’s order. The local teachers union head said no organized action is planned, Boca News Now reports.

This isn’t just a Florida discussion. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott also has banned school mask mandates and canceled live-remote course offerings, the Texas Tribune reports.

Other school news

Florida has new laws protecting young children from arrest at schools. Data indicates the state has far to go to overcome disproportionate action against Black students, Florida Phoenix reports.

A Polk County high school celebrated a 91 percent International Baccalaureate diploma graduation rate. It’s the school’s best outcome since 2005, the Ledger reports.

Schools continue to evaluate their FSA results. About half of Volusia County students failed either their math or language arts exam, the Daytona Beach News-Journal reports. • The Citrus County school district decided not to pursue school or district grades this year, the Citrus County Chronicle reports.

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The DeSantis administration took some hits for spending $3.6 million for a firm to help distribute bonuses to teachers. It defended the amount as reasonable, Fox News reports.

The St. Johns County School Board revised the student dress code to make it gender neutral. The ACLU has called on the district to revise the rule even further, WTLV reports.

Strike up the band. High school band camps are in full swing in Collier County, after a year without them, the Naples Daily News reports.

University offers graduates a clean start. Florida A&M wiped out $16 million of debt for the Class of 2020, the Tallahassee Democrat reports.

They’re still hiring. The Polk County school district has more than 400 job openings, the Ledger reports.

Before you go ... Did you catch that amazing race by Florida swimmer Caeleb Dressel? From explosive start through breathless swim to an Olympic record, just wow.

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