Some school districts across Florida could circumvent DeSantis’ ban on mask mandates

Published: August 4, 2021 9:39 PM EDT
Updated: August 5, 2021 10:28 AM EDT

Florida continues to break COVID-19 hospitalization records as more than 12,000 people were admitted to hospitals across the state Wednesday.

This came on the heels of Gov. Ron DeSantis issuing an executive order preventing school districts from issuing a mask mandate, although there are at least four school districts across that state that are attempting to get around that order with their own requirements.

None of those districts are in Southwest Florida. Every school district here has already said masks are optional for students and it’s up to the parents to decide.

However, one legal expert said the governor’s executive order pertains to children, which may leave the door open for mask requirements for adults, such as staff and teachers. Many parents are still split about who should be making decisions about their children wearing masks.

“I think it should be up to the parents if they mask their children or not,” said Jenna Romeo, who has four children in Lee County schools.

“The governor is relying on the Parents’ Bill of Rights, which states that parents have the right to make decisions on health care issues,” said Pamela Seay, a Justice Studies professor at Florida Gulf Coast University.

Seay predicts that there will be heavy penalties for school districts that violate the order, which could include pulling funding.

“You cannot have a mask mandate for the student. On the other hand, if you wish to have a mask requirement for the teachers and assistants and other adults that are present, those who are not students, that may be permissible.”

Some parents say they can get on board with that. Shawn Tittle has two children in Lee County schools. “The more people that are protected, the better.”

Tittle wants his son to participate in distance learning but, because of his job, that’s not an option for him. “From the very beginning, he’s understood that you got to wear the masks. And he’s been alright with it.”

Other parents say that they agree with this sentiment. Sandra Stubblefield says she wants her daughter to be safe but also trusts her to do that herself. “I was really impressed with how the school district handled the pandemic last year and that was before kids could get vaccinated. And like I said, now she’s vaccinated, and I feel comfortable.”

Other parents say they’re happy to have the choice and don’t mind if the adults aren’t masked up. “We’re really excited for the school year. We’re excited to have a normal school year,” Romero said.

Both Lee and Collier County schools say masks will not be required for students or adults in their districts. WINK News reached out to Charlotte County Public Schools and they responded with a statement. You can read the full statement below:

“Steve Dionisio, Superintendent of Schools, recommended to the School Board that masks for both students and staff will be optional and they approved unanimously. We are in daily contact with Dr. Pepe and the Charlotte County Health Department. We would defer to them as far as what percentage of students and or staff would have to test positive before we would close a school. For parents who are concerned they do have the options of our their children using On-Line Charlotte Virtual School, or Home School.”