Lee County Schools must respond to DOE’s request to reverse mask mandate

Published: September 6, 2021 5:30 PM EDT
Updated: September 6, 2021 5:48 PM EDT

We reported The School District of Lee County is under investigation over the terms of its mask mandate by Florida Department of Education. DOE wants an explanation about how the District will reverse its mask mandate and comply with the governor’s executive order.

The clock is ticking now for Lee County Schools, since it must respond to a letter sent by education Commissioner Richard Corcoran in his request for the District to comply with the state.

MORE: Education Commissioner letter to Lee County Schools

A District spokesman told us Lee County Schools will reply to DOE by the deadline — 10 a.m. Wednesday. But he would not say anything about whether the district will lift its mask mandate like the state wants.

Gov. Ron DeSantis is not backing down. DOE is not backing down. So time will tell if the District plans to adhere to the education commissioner’s request or defy it.

“We’ll see, of course,” political scientist Aubrey Jewett said. “I could be wrong. Maybe they’ll all comply. I doubt it. After all of this, I doubt it.”

Jewett is willing to bet nobody’s backing down now.

The DOE commissioner’s letter to Interim Superintendent Ken Savage and school board Chair Debbie Jordan demands reversal of the mask mandate. In that letter, the commissioner wrote it doesn’t matter that a judge struck down the governor’s executive order banning mask mandates. He stressed, because DeSantis appealed that decision, an automatic stay went into effect.

“That is in a sense, the law continues to stand as the legislature passed it,” Jewett said. “And as the governor and the department of education are interpreting it.”

Attorney Charles Gallagher wants to change that. He plans to bring an emergency motion to the judge 10 a.m. Wednesday, asking him to lift the stay. That will allow school districts, including Lee County, to keep their mandates until a judge rules on the DeSantis appeal.

“And to go back to a point where there is this ban on school boards having mass mandates is a safety issue,” Gallagher said.

Gallagher is the attorney who successfully argued the governor’s executive order was illegal. He will also argue the emergency motion.

There is a lot we still don’t know, but we do know the debate over mask mandates in Florida schools is not over.