Lee County School Board felt pressure from state to vote against mask mandate

The mask debate is over for schools in one Southwest Florida county for now.

Lee County School Board voted against a proposed mask mandate, in turn not defying the governor’s order that bans mask mandates.

At Monday’s workshop, it looked like the board might have gone through with imposing another mandate at its Tuesday meeting. Three board members simply said they realized the law was not on their side, and it’s not.

Before Tuesday’s meeting, Florida Department of Education threatened to remove any board members who vote in favor of mask mandates from office.

After a briefing by Lee Health Dr. Stephanie Stovall, board members sounded open for a school district mask mandate.

“This is not a political issue for me,” board member Chris Patricca said. “I don’t know how else to keep our children safe when you have the head of Golisano come in here and say masks should be worn in our schools.”

“We’re either going to direct the superintendent to initiate a mask requirement, or we’re going to adopt a resolution as a board that we support a mandatory mask requirement, one or the other,” Cathleen O’Daniel Morgan said. “Let’s just cut to the chase and do this.”

“If we get defunded, I’ll throw in some of my salary,” Betsy Vaughn said. “This is important.”

Funding is not a main issue, said Interim Superintendent Ken Savage. He wrapped up Monday’s passionate, three-hour meeting with a clear warning.

“It’s not the sanctions that I think would cause any pause,” Savage said. “it’s just going against what I would say is the law.”

Savage was referring to Gov. Ron DeSantis’ executive order that bans mask mandates in schools.

Board Attorney Kathy Dupuy- Bruno said breaking the law would come with consequences.

“There will be repercussions, not just legal,” Dupuy- Bruno said. “I’m sure there will be other things.”

Bruno proved to be prophetic, since 24 hours later during the state department of education meeting, its members ruled two defiant school districts that already imposed a mask mandate broke the law and threatened to remove elected officials responsible.

“Just because something is legal doesn’t mean it’s right, and just because something is illegal, doesn’t mean its wrong,” Patricca said. “I am morally opposed to the vote that I have to make tonight.”

“I am disturbed that the governor has inserted himself in our process,” Morgan said. “I hate to be in the position that I can’t do what I think is right for children.”

Vaughn was the only board member who did not reverse course.

“If there’s one child that dies because we didn’t protect them, then, I feel that it’s on us,” Vaughn said.

Reporter:Sydney Persing
Writer:Jack Lowenstein
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