Battle over face masks: At least 10 school districts in Florida stand up to DeSantis

MIAMI – As of Wednesday night, 10 school districts in Florida were implementing face mask mandates in defiance of Gov. Ron DeSantis’s executive order.

Aside from Broward and Miami-Dade counties, the school districts in Palm Beach, Alachua, Hillsborough, Sarasota, Orange, Indian River, Leon, and Duval counties also have face mask mandates with a medical opt-out process.

“They are thumbing their nose at the rights of parents,” DeSantis said on Wednesday during a news conference in The Villages. “Some of these districts had let parents, had honored the ability of the parent, and then they are taking it back.”

Tallahassee-based Leon County Circuit Judge John Cooper listened to arguments this week after a group of parents from Hillsborough, Orange, and Alachua counties filed a lawsuit against DeSantis, Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran, the Florida Department of Education, and the State Board of Education.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s ban on face mask mandates is also facing similar opposition, and the Texas Education Agency is stopping enforcement during pending litigation. That is not the case in Florida.

“The only thing that we have been threatened with right now is withholding the funds to prevent school board members from collecting a salary, which again I maintain is illegal,” said Sarah Leonardi, a School Board of Broward County member.

Leonardi and school board members from Miami-Dade and Palm Beach counties met on Wednesday. School Board of Palm Beach County member Alexandria Ayala said it’s an issue about local control and about the constitutional responsibilities of school board members.

“We will not be pressured by the governor of the State Board of Education when the safety and health of our students is involved,” said Lucia Baez-Geller, a School Board of Miami-Dade County member.

Virtual Leon County court hearing

Virtual meeting with 3 school board members from Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties

About the Authors:

Glenna Milberg joined Local 10 News in September 1999 to report on South Florida's top stories and community issues. She also serves as co-host on Local 10's public affairs broadcast, "This Week in South Florida."

The Emmy Award-winning journalist joined the Local 10 News team in 2013. She wrote for the Miami Herald for more than 9 years and won a Green Eyeshade Award.