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Local education leaders respond to state’s pressure against face mask mandates

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FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – To support Gov. Ron DeSantis’ July 30th executive order, the State Board of Education announced members adopted emergency measures on Friday to “protect” the children whose parents believe would be “harmed” by face mask mandates or stay-home directives.

During the 18 months of the coronavirus pandemic, infectious disease experts have consistently recommended the two public health measures. The State Board of Education approved an emergency rule to allow private school vouchers for parents who feel their children are being harassed by a school district’s safety rules.

“It doesn’t make sense at all why we are doing this and not implementing the most minor protections,” said Matthew Dietz, the litigation director of the Disability Independence Group in Miami.

The Florida Department of Education also threatened to withhold “state funds, discretionary grant funds, discretionary lottery funds, or any other funds” from school districts with face mask mandates designed to protect the health of teachers and students during the new surge of COVID cases.

“So if we are in an emergency, let’s be in an emergency, but we can’t pick and choose and play with people’s lives and play games with rulemaking,” said Rosalind Osgood, the chair of the School Board of Broward County.

The priority during the state board’s meeting wasn’t to find ways to implement the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommendations. It was to protect “parents’ freedom to choose” through the state’s Hope Scholarship program, which offers victims of bullying in public schools access to private education.

The Broward Teachers Union and United Teachers of Dade have both opposed DeSantis’ executive order, the Florida Department of Education’s moves to support it, and legislative efforts to have taxpayers fund for-profit education.

“We are going to continue to let our folks know that our children should not be political propaganda. That this is not the right way,” said Karla Hernández-Mats, the president of the United Teachers of Dade.

The School Board of Broward County agreed to implement a face mask mandate starting Aug. 18 before DeSantis signed his executive order. The School Board of Miami-Dade County has yet to make a decision on whether or not there will be any mandates starting Aug. 23.

The opposition to DeSantis’ order upset President Joe Biden who raised the issue earlier this week during a speech asking him to “get out of the way.” DeSantis fired back during a news conference saying he was not going to.

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About the Authors:

Alex Finnie joined the Local 10 News team in May 2018. South Florida is home! She was raised in Miami and attended the Cushman School and New World School of the Arts for high school.

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.