FORT PIERCE, Fla. (WTXL) — Florida students should not be "muzzled" during the upcoming school year, Gov. Ron DeSantis exclaimed Thursday during a stop in Fort Pierce.
Speaking at Indian River State College, the governor reiterated his firm stance that there will be no mask mandates in Florida schools for the 2021-22 academic year, even as COVID-19 cases surge and many children are unable to receive the coronavirus vaccine.
"We certainly will not have any mandates on students and on parents in the upcoming school year," DeSantis said. "We're not doing that in Florida."
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In calling for a "normal school year" to allow students to "learn like normal kids," DeSantis defied recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatrics, which earlier this week said anyone over the age of two should wear a facial covering, regardless of their vaccination status, when the new school year begins in a few weeks.
"We need kids to be able to be kids. We need them to be able to breathe. It's terribly uncomfortable for them to [wear masks]," DeSantis said. "Parents, obviously, can equip their kids to go to school however they want. But there shouldn't be any coercive mandates on our schools."
The governor even seemed to suggest the possibility of issuing an emergency order to prevent school districts from instituting mask mandates.
"If we need to bring [the Florida Legislature] back in to be able to do something from the legislative perspective, [Florida House Speaker Chris Sprowls] is all in to be able to do it. And I know that people will do it," DeSantis said.
Late Wednesday night, the head of the Palm Beach County School Board vehemently said there are no plans to reinstate the School District of Palm Beach County's face mask mandate for the 2021-22 academic year, which is scheduled to begin Aug. 10.
"I want to make it clear to the public that we have not made a decision to do that," School Board Chairman Frank Barbieri said. "We can find other ways to protect the children. That's fine. But to suggest to the public that this board is considering putting a mandate back for masks is the farthest thing from the truth."
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Under the School District of Palm Beach County's instructional plan for the new academic year, facial coverings will be optional for all students, staff members, and visitors inside school buildings and on school district transportation.
The district is planning a full return to in-classroom instruction next month. Distance learning related to the COVID-19 pandemic has been eliminated.
Fears are mounting among parents and doctors about the highly contagious Delta variant of COVID-19, which now accounts for 83% of coronavirus cases in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
While medical officials said the COVID-19 vaccines from Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson are all effective against the Delta variant, only children 12 and older are eligible to receive the vaccine, leaving many students vulnerable to the virus.
According to the latest recommendations from the CDC, masks should be worn indoors by anyone two and older who is not fully vaccinated.
"At the end of the day, we gotta start putting our kids first. We gotta look out for their education," DeSantis said Thursday. "Is it really comfortable? Is it really healthy for them to be muzzled and to have their breathing obstructed all day long in school? I don't think it is."