Florida’s largest school district said it’s worried about funding if it does not follow Gov. Ron DeSantis’ executive order preventing the implementation of mask mandates in schools.
Miami-Dade County Public Schools previously said it planned to revisit its mask-optional policy due to new guidelines issued by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) last week that recommended localities encourage all teachers, staff, students, and visitors in schools to wear masks indoors, regardless of vaccination status.
But DeSantis’ order, signed Friday, threatens to withhold state funding if schools implement a mask mandate.
The updated guidance was issued amid rising cases of the Delta variant of Covid-19 in parts of the country with low vaccination rates.
In Florida, cases of Covid-19 have risen steadily in recent weeks, with the number of new cases per week jumping by 50% last week from the previous week, according to a weekly situation report released by the Florida Department of Health.
There were 110,477 cases reported over the seven-day period ending July 29, with the week prior reporting 73,000 and the two previous weeks tallying 45,000 cases and 23,000 cases, respectively.
What does the order mean?
A news release from Governor DeSantis’ office said executive order 21-175 was issued “in response to several Florida school boards considering or implementing mask mandates in their schools after the Biden Administration issued unscientific and inconsistent recommendations that school-aged children wear masks.”
It adds that this was done “to protect parents’ freedom to choose whether their children wear masks.”
The order states that if the State Board of Education finds a school district board unwilling or unable to comply, it is able to withhold the transfer of state funds, discretionary grant funds or discretionary lottery funds.
The board can also declare a school ineligible for competitive grants if the district doesn’t comply.
The Miami-Dade County Public Schools superintendent said he’s worried about striking a balance between protecting his district and following the governor’s order.
“We certainly hope to be able to craft protocols that ensure full funding of our children’s education, while simultaneously protecting their and their teachers’ health and well-being,” Superintendent Alberto M. Carvalho said.
In nearby Broward County, the school board voted last Wednesday to mandate masks.
Katherine Koch, the district’s chief communication’s officer, now says, “The School Board of Broward County is reviewing Governor DeSantis’ Executive Order and considering what adjustments may be necessary to make to our face covering policy.”
In Central Florida, the use of face masks at Orange County Public Schools will continue through Monday, according to Sara Au, the district’s spokesperson.
A school board policy “authorizes the Superintendent to implement more restrictive face covering requirements in the event the CDC or other government entities issue such guidance,” and the district is waiting on guidance from local and state leadership on how to move forward, Au said.
CNN’s Deanna Hackney and Brandon Miller contributed to this report.