TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WTXL) — Florida's governor on Thursday stood firm in the face of a growing number of public school districts that are breaking state law by imposing universal mask mandates for students to slow the spread of COVID-19.
Speaking in Orlando, DeSantis issued a stern warning to any school officials who violate his emergency order, warning there will be consequences.
"The penalties will be applied to the politicians who violated the law. There will be no penalties applied to school children or teachers," DeSantis said. "The penalties will be focused on the politicians."
Palm Beach, Indian River, and at least eight other school districts throughout Florida are requiring facial coverings for children without the ability to opt out.
DeSantis said the sweeping mandates are a direct violation of the newly passed Parents' Bill of Rights, which gives parents and guardians the final say over whether their children should be masked in school.
"When you have a Bill of Rights, if your individual right as a parent is violated, then you have the ability then to go in and seek vindication," DeSantis said.
The Leon County Board voted Tuesday night to uphold the K-8 mask mandate with medical opt-out announced by Superintendent Rocky Hanna on Sunday.
All public school children K-8, those under the age of 12, in Leon County will be required to wear facial coverings inside school buildings and on school district transportation without the parental opt-out option. The only exceptions are for students with certain medical conditions.
"I don't think us asking children that are most vulnerable ages 5-11 [to wear a mask] is asking too much, and we have a compelling reason to do so," said Hanna.
That mandate goes into effect Aug. 30.
DeSantis said Thursday he expects groups of outraged parents who are strongly against the school mask requirements to pursue legal action throughout the state.
Some parents and Board members say Hanna should follow the law passed by Governor on DeSantis banning mask mandates in public schools.
"In terms of health, there's parents whose kids have not done well wearing the mask all day," DeSantis said. "It has taken a toll on kids throughout Florida."
"We should continue to be in compliance with the law or seek other remedies that are legal," LCS Board member Dee Dee Rasmussen said.
"If someone had not dissented [from the law] I would still be a slave. So, for me, I have no problem standing with the superintendent," said Board member Daryl Jones. "As painful as it is, I must dissent."
A Leon County circuit court judge is expected to rule Friday on a lawsuit from pro-mask parents who argue that DeSantis' executive order -- which essentially bans school districts from imposing facial covering mandates -- puts the health and safety of students at risk.
DeSantis said if the state loses in court, it will file an appeal.
"We feel that the Legislature really made a big statement with their Parental Bill of Rights, and that's an important piece of legislation," DeSantis said.