mask mandate

Will School Districts Defy the Governor? One Already Has, and Broward Might Follow

Alachua County’s school board voted Tuesday night to require masks for at least the first two weeks of school

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The Broward County School Board has company. 

The board might feel empowered to defy Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis on mask mandates after the Alachua County School Board did so Tuesday night. Miami-Dade County Public Schools says it will decide the issue based on science and evidence. So Broward’s school board will have an emergency meeting next Tuesday to decide whether or not to pick a fight with DeSantis and risk losing state funding in the process. 

On Wednesday the governor maintained his position that Florida’s public school students will not be made to wear face masks this school year. 

“I can tell you in Florida, the parents are gonna be the ones in charge of that decision!” DeSantis said to applause in an appearance in the Panhandle. 

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“This should not be a political issue,” said Dr. Rosalind Osgood, chair of the Broward School Board.

Osgood was one of the nine board members who voted unanimously last week to mandate masks for all students. DeSantis responded with an executive order banning school districts from requiring masks, saying parents should make that decision. So what will happen at Broward’s emergency school board meeting next week?

“I’m planning on sticking to the decision I made as a school board member to protect my community, for me it’s really not about the governor, it’s about my community,” Osgood said. 

Osgood is willing to defy the governor. Alachua County’s school board already did, voting Tuesday night to require masks for at least the first two weeks of school, saying it’s the best way to prevent schools from becoming COVID spreader environments, realizing they’re risking a funding cut threatened by the governor. 

“That’s certainly a concern. What we’re hoping that we can communicate to the governor and to state leaders is we want exactly what they want, we want to keep our schools open,” said school district spokesperson Jackie Johnson, who pointed out the severity of the COVID surge in the Gainesville area. “We need a local response, a statewide response may not be what’s best for this community based on what we’re seeing.”

The NAACP is considering legal action against the governor’s executive order. 

“It is as if our governor is playing Russian roulette with the lives of our children and that’s just unacceptable,” said Marsha Ellison, president of the NAACP’s Fort Lauderdale branch. 

“It’s being kind of falsely packaged as a parent health choice issue, it’s a public health issue,” said attorney Charles Gallagher. 

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The St. Petersburg lawyer is already in the process of challenging DeSantis with a class-action lawsuit. Gallagher says his order violates the safe schools mandate of Florida’s Constitution as well as the provision that local school boards decide local issues. 

“So what we have here is we have 67 different counties who have been usurped and disenfranchised from governing their own schools by this order,” Gallagher said.

He will be asking for immediate injunctive relief when he files the lawsuit this week. Gallagher says since the CDC and the American Academy of Pediatrics have said schools will not be safe during this Delta variant surge without everyone masking up, prohibiting school districts from mandating masks violates the safe schools provision of the state constitution. 

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