TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — The governor plans to enforce his mask mandate ban in Florida's public schools via a voucher program.
State officials Thursday published a summary of the enforcement details after Gov. Ron DeSantis signed the order last week. It all hinges on new rules from the Department of Education and Health. The Florida Board of Education is set to take up the proposals Friday during an emergency meeting.
The mask rule would allow parents who think a district's COVID-19 protocols, including masking, "pose a health or educational danger to their child" to use state voucher money to transfer to another district or private school. That's according to a summary of the change on the education department's website.
Dollars would come from the Hope Scholarship program, which was designed to help relocated bullied children.
Andrew Spar, the president of Florida's teacher union, the Florida Education Association, said his reaction was disbelief. He said the state apparently sees a mask emergency instead of a health crisis.
"We're in the middle of a health emergency and we've got the Department of Education and the State Board of Education and the governor talking about expanding private school vouchers," Spar said. "We should be talking about how do we keep everyone safe, and it seems like the governor's just playing politics."
At least four districts -- Alachua, Leon, Broward and Duval counties -- are pushing back against DeSantis' order. Most, however, are staying the course and keeping masking optional, for now.
Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried has called on more to violate the order and follow Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines, which recommend everyone return to masking in schools.
Florida Ag Commissioner @NikkiFriedFL encouraging districts to violate the governor’s new order threatening to withhold money from those who install mask mandates: “School boards — stand up. Do what is right. We will get your back.” pic.twitter.com/Ac1QD28Umv— Forrest Saunders (@FBSaunders) August 5, 2021
"School boards, I am talking to you," she said Thursday. "Stand up. Do what is right. We will get your back."
Fried, a candidate for governor, said she was looking at ways to help compensate schools if they do lose funding for non-compliance.
"First of all, I don't know if that's even constitutional," she said. "And second of all is working with the White House to see if there might be additional resources that can come down from Washington, D.C."
DeSantis has remained resolute -- even in the face of pressure from the White House. He reaffirmed Wednesday that putting parents in charge of masking was the right call.
"Let me tell you this, if you're coming after the rights of parents in Florida, I'm standing in your way," DeSantis said. "I'm not going to let you get away with it."
The Board of Education will meet to discuss the rule change Friday at 11 a.m. via a teleconference. Most Florida schools resume Aug. 10.