In an executive order late last week, Gov. Ron DeSantis threatened to withhold state funding in any public school district that implements mandatory mask mandates for its student population.
Since then, school districts such as Broward County have had to make tough decisions on whether or not to keep masking mandates in place (Broward has decided to keep its mandate for now).
Earlier this week, Alachua County Public Schools became the first district to implement a mask mandate despite the governor’s order.
Vice President of Alachua County’s Council of Parent Teacher Association Megan Hendricks says the National PTA has similar views to the Alachua County School Board.
“We want to see the entire community come together, put our heads together, and come up with any creative solution we can to keep this virus out of our schools,” Hendricks said.
She added that debate on this issue has been heated.
“There are strong feelings on both sides of this issue, a lot of passion, a lot of support for and against masks,” she said.
The heated discussions continue as COVID cases rise in Alachua County.
The county is now seeing over 1,000 new cases per week, according to the latest report on July 30, a drastic change from only 76 new weekly cases in the beginning of June.
Alachua County Public Schools spokesperson Jackie Johnson said medical professionals and community members attended the meeting where the decision was made to highlight these trends.
“There is an alarming spike in COVID cases in Alachua County, in hospitalizations and that includes previously healthy children,” she said.
When asked about the governor’s executive order, Johnson said the school district has yet to receive all of the emergency rules that make up the order.
Once received, she said the board will look over these rules and take them into consideration.
However, Johnson feels for employees and students alike, this decision is important.
“We had two employees who died of COVID-related complications just this past weekend,” she explained. “We’ve got more than 80 employees who are still in quarantine, and the school year hasn’t even started.”
DeSantis does have the power to mandate masks, said University of South Florida education professor Dr. Steve Permuth.
However, he says there are still many unknowns about these jurisdictions that will be challenged with further legislation.
“What do boards of education do? Aren’t they the controlling agent for the children and the schools, or is it the governor? What controls can or cannot be made?” he asked.
Permuth said questions over who controls schools are what complicate many legal issues such as this one.
“It really comes down to who is in charge of the schools and whether the states can claim that under the 10th amendment- can states make that an absolute mandate without understanding that the health of students is at risk?” he said.
The Alachua County School Board will re-evaluate its masking decision at a meeting on Aug. 17.
The State Board of Education is also considering a voucher program that would allow public school students to transfer to private schools without mask mandates.