TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — The office of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said Thursday it's disappointed in a major decision by the Palm Beach County School Board to mandate face masks for students without giving them the ability to opt-out.
School board members voted late Wednesday night to amend the School District of Palm Beach County's COVID-19 protocols for students.
Under the changes, which are expected to go into effect on Monday, parents can no longer opt their children out of wearing facial coverings inside schools and on school district transportation.
The only exceptions will be for medical reasons, specifically students who are covered under the Americans with Disabilities Act or Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, meaning a child has a physical or mental condition that substantially limits a "major life activity" like learning.
The changes are a direct defiance of a highly controversial executive order issued by DeSantis on July 30 that gives parents the final say over whether their children should wear facial coverings in school.
DeSantis' Press Secretary Christina Pushaw released the following statement to WPTV Thursday morning about the Palm Beach County School Board's decision:
"The forced masking of schoolchildren infringes upon parents’ rights to make health and educational decisions for their own children.
No politician is above the law, even the Palm Beach County school board members.
It is disappointing that the school board chose to change their mask policy — which had previously protected the freedom for parents to opt their kids out, in compliance with Florida law."
Palm Beach County now joins some of the largest school districts in the Florida -- including Miami-Dade, Broward, Hillsborough, and Alachua counties -- in mandating masks without an opt-out provision.
The Florida Board of Education on Tuesday voted to penalize school districts in Broward and Alachua counties for their COVID-19 policies. It's unclear what those penalties will be, but DeSantis' office has suggested the possibility of withholding the salaries of any superintendents or school board members who violate his executive order.
School districts in Miami-Dade and Hillsborough counties voted Wednesday to universally mandate face coverings, with the only exceptions being for medical reasons.
Speaking in Pasco County on Thursday afternoon, DeSantis said the decisions by those five school districts have taken away the freedom of choice among Florida parents.
"There's parents who are sending their kids in ways that they thought was the most healthy for their kids," DeSantis said. "[The school boards] basically took that away from the parents."
The governor went on to accuse the Biden Administration of being "intent on having the government force kindergartners, first graders to have to wear masks for eight hours a day."
"They want to take that decision away from the parent, and they want to vest that in local government," DeSantis said. "As a parent, I'm offended that the federal government thinks that they know better than we do as parents. And in Florida, we want to make sure that we're standing by our parents."
WATCH NEWS CONFERENCE:
President Joe Biden on Wednesday directed the U.S. Department of Education to explore "possible enforcement actions" against governors who try to prevent school districts from imposing universal mask mandates.
Pushaw on Thursday said the next steps and any "possible consequences of violating the law" for the School District of Palm Beach County would come from the Florida Department of Education.