COVID-19 | August 29th, 2021
Parents And Students Worry Amid Ban On Mask Mandates
By: Devani Allen
As Florida school systems head back to school, parents and students are faced with a new obstacle: a ban on mask mandates. On Aug. 11, Gov. Ron DeSantis banned mask mandates for all students enrolled in public K-12 schools, leaving students and teachers vulnerable to COVID-19 exposure.
The decision was made amid the COVID-19 delta variant sweeping through the state and causing a rise in positive cases in both adults and adolescents. On Aug. 16, new cases soared in the state, with a total of 56,036, the state’s highest single-day total since the start of the pandemic. According to The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the state accounted for 19.1 percent of the country’s new cases.
In Palm Beach County discussions arose about pushing the school year start date back, but ultimately the ruling was made to move forward with the original calendar. While some parents and students fought earnestly for masks to be optional in schools, many families do not feel safe knowing their children may be exposed to the virus without any precautions in place.
Deirdre Allen, a 26-year-old mother of two who resides in Palm Beach County, expressed her concerns about sending her 9-year-old daughter back to school, knowing some children would not be wearing masks. “I know how my daughter is and I know how other children can be,” said Allen. “I have yet to observe a child who is neat and conscious of germs.”
Allen also made it clear that although masks are now optional, her daughter would be wearing a mask until she feels comfortable without it. Parents like Allen are not the only people concerned with the new ban on masks.
Shovik Saah, a 17-year-old senior at Suncoast Community High School in Riviera Beach, has also expressed concerns about his classmates’ lack of concern for not wearing personal protective equipment.
“I believe that masks not being a requirement anymore could endanger many students,” Saah said. “I know a lot of people my age stopped wearing masks in public over the summer, but I will definitely continue to wear my mask to protect myself and others.”
Not only has Gov. DeSantis made the executive decision for optional masks, but he has also stated that the Florida Board of Education may withhold the paychecks of superintendents and school board members who go against the order prohibiting mask mandates. DeSantis took things a step further saying his administration will do whatever they can to vindicate the rights of parents. “we’re going to do whatever we can to vindicate the rights of parents, and make sure that parents are in the driver’s seat,” said DeSantis via Palm Beach Post.
Miami-Dade Superintendent Alberto Carvalho, who runs the fourth largest school district in the nation, has made it clear that he will act in the best interest of his student’s health. “At no point shall I allow my decision to be influenced by a threat to my paycheck; a small price to pay considering the gravity of this issue…,” said Carvalho via Miami CBS Local.
In addition to Dade County, Alachua and Leon County have also opted to impose their own mask mandates. During a press conference, Leon County Superintendent Rocky Hanna expressed the responsibility he would feel if something happened to one of his students.
“If something went sideways for us—and heaven forbid we lost a child to the virus—I can’t just simply blame the governor of the state. I can’t,” said Hanna in the press conference on Aug. 1st
Cartier Scott, a fifth-year math teacher in Palm Beach County, does not feel completely safe in school either. Despite being vaccinated, Scott feels like with the new variant out, anything is possible. “I was diagnosed with COVID-19 a few months ago, so I know the side effects firsthand,” said Scott. “I’m worried about the students though, they’re just eager to get back to school and happy they aren’t trapped by masks anymore.”
While students may be relieved that they do not have to wear masks anymore, this poses a big threat to everyone else around them, including other students, faculty and staff. In Palm Beach County, the 10th largest school district in Florida, 440 students have been told to quarantine because of their exposure to the disease since Aug. 10. More than 50 positive cases reported from three schools came from both students and teachers during the first week of school.
As of late, Gov. DeSantis has remained obstinate on his ban on school’s mask mandates. Under an emergency ruling, there is now a voucher in place for parents to move their children to another school if they feel like any form of “COVID-19 harassment” is taking place. Florida’s Department of Health revealed new protocols that include a “non-discrimination” clause, which states students who choose to not wear a mask shall not be excluded from or isolated from any school-sponsored events.
The ban on masks, for many, comes off as an intersection between DeSantis’s policy and political agenda. While DeSantis is not abiding by the warnings of health experts, his ban is seemingly appeasing his base as he is suspected to run in the forthcoming presidential election.
Most recently, several school boards and parents have filed a lawsuit against DeSantis, accusing him of abusing his power and asserting that the prohibition on masks violates the state constitution. Parents have come from counties all over the state, including Miami-Dade, Palm Beach, Orange, Alachua, Hillsborough and Pinellas county.