TALLAHASSEE — Gov. Ron DeSantis on Thursday morning had separate phone calls with Senate President Wilton Simpson and House Speaker Chris Sprowls, fueling speculation that the Legislature may convene a special session to consider outlawing mask mandates in school districts.
The phone calls come as DeSantis increases talks about calling a special session on the issue if the federal government or Florida school districts move to implement mask mandates for students. Some districts, including Broward County Public Schools, voted this week to reinstate or keep mask mandates in schools as kids prepare to return to in-person learning in August.
The decisions come two days after the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended everyone, whether vaccinated or not, wear a mask indoors at K-12 schools in response to the surge in coronavirus cases tied to the highly infectious delta variant of COVID-19.
The school mask mandate imposed by Broward County Public Schools grabbed the attention of the governor on Thursday. In a statement, his office said the issue “will be addressed.”
“As you’re probably aware, the governor hinted last week that the Legislature would have a special session to ensure that all Florida school districts are mask optional, so that parents can decide what is best for their own kids,” DeSantis’ press secretary Christina Pushaw said in a statement Thursday.
The governor’s public schedule from Thursday could also point to a possible special session.
DeSantis had calls with Simpson and Sprowls, the Republican leaders of Florida’s legislative chambers, and had meetings and calls with his top staffers, including those who help set the governor’s legislative agenda.
Simpson and Sprowls have not responded to several calls, text messages and emails made or sent since Tuesday seeking comment about the possibility of a special session. On Monday, DeSantis held a closed-door meeting with a collection of scientists during which he once again talked about how the “Legislature feels strongly” about holding a special session to outlaw mask mandates in schools.
“I know they’re interested in coming in,” DeSantis said, “even in a special session, to be able to provide protections for parents and kids who just want to breathe freely and don’t want suffering under these masks during the school year.”
A recording of the roundtable, which was closed to the public and the media, was posted on the social media site Rumble.
The issue of mask-wearing has been politically divisive in Florida, particularly in schools. DeSantis has been a loud critic of mask mandates for children, often saying it is bad policy and based on little evidence.
While the debate over masks in schools was heating up at some school board meetings on Wednesday, DeSantis was mocking new federal guidelines over mask mandates and lockdowns in Utah while addressing the American Legislative Exchange Council.
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In a 15-minute speech, DeSantis said he believed the CDC’s latest guidelines were the start of more government pandemic-related restrictions.
“It is very important that we say unequivocally no to lockdowns, no to school closures, no to restrictions and no to mandates,” he said at the Utah event.