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Ignoring COVID-19: Florida governor’s ban of mask mandates in public schools endangers children

With millions of children across Florida preparing to return to school this month, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has issued an irresponsible executive order that bars school districts from implementing face mask requirements for their students.

This order is deeply disturbing. It utterly disregards the health and safety and the very lives of children, particularly children who are the most vulnerable and have been most impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The order, which ignores guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) as well as recommendations from the American Pediatrics Association, disproportionately puts Latinx, Black and low-income communities at risk of COVID-19 and new variants that spread more easily and quickly. 

What’s more, DeSantis’ edict targets school districts and public schools but does not apply to private schools – including private schools that receive taxpayers’ money. Private schools in Florida still have the authority to make their own decisions about whether to require children to wear masks, but public schools do not.

When you look at the racial and social makeup of children in private schools versus those in public schools across the state, this order will have a much greater impact on children of color in low-income communities.

Public schools, which most of the children from Black, Brown and low-income communities attend, are not going to be accessible for medically vulnerable children and children from communities that have been most affected by the pandemic. This includes immigrant communities, communities experiencing poverty and communities that don’t have sufficient access to high-quality health care. 

Although the governor purports to give parents freedom to decide that their children don’t have to wear masks in school, he is stripping away the rights of many parents to choose a safe in-school environment for their children – a right the Florida Constitution guarantees.

Under the governor’s executive order, some parents now have the authority to push out or endanger other children by forcing them to be in close proximity for seven to eight hours a day with unmasked classmates who could be virus carriers, creating an enormous risk to their health and even their lives – a risk that is multiplied for medically vulnerable children and children whose families and communities have already been most impacted by the pandemic. 

Now that students are required to return to school in person, prohibiting mask mandates is an action of the state that affirmatively puts them in danger and shows deliberate indifference to the excessive risks to their health and safety.

This is yet another example of DeSantis’ propensity to ignore the requirements of the state constitution and usurp the authority of local elected officials and policymakers to do what is in the best interests of their constituents. 

The governor is imposing his political will on local elected officials regardless of facts, science and knowledge about what is happening on the ground in their communities.

And he’s gambling with the health of our children in the process.

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