DeSantis asserts politics, not science, driving some school COVID-19 policies

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As more Florida schools mask mandates went into effect Monday in defiance of Gov. Ron DeSantis, he asserted some school district policies are based more in politics than science.

“This is more political than it is; you’re not following the science,” he said Monday afternoon at a news conference in Fort Pierce, when asked about some parents reportedly keeping their children home from Palm Beach County schools after the district on Monday made masks mandatory, with exceptions only for those with medical reasons certified by physician.

DeSantis’ take on politics vs. science was part of a lengthy answer to the question. He asserted that “you’re not following the science if you’re quarantining a healthy kid who’s already recovered from COVID in the past.”

“The fact that someone pulled their kids out of school just shows you they feel strongly about being able to make that decision. I just ultimately think the parents have the best understanding, and I think if they think it’s something that’s harmful and oh by the way, none of these districts that are violating state law, none of them recognize immunity conferred from prior infection. That is anti-science,” he said.

Contrary to what DeSantis said, Palm Beach County’s policy does, in fact, recognize immunity conferred by prior infections. If a student receives a stay-at-home directive, the school district policy states that “if your child had a confirmed case of COVID-19 in the last 90 days and you provide proof of the confirmed case, your child can return to school immediately.”

Among Democrats, the split was 18% favorable/80% unfavorable. Among Republicans, it was 66% favorable and 29% unfavorable.

DeSantis issued an executive order on July 30 to stop school districts from imposing mask mandates. But seven county school districts — Alachua, Broward, Hillsborough, Leon (for younger students) Miami-Dade, Palm Beach and Sarasota — representing about 40% of the state’s population, have defied the governor.

In Fort Pierce, DeSantis reiterated his view that he wants “parents to ultimately have the call on masks and all this other stuff.” The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends masking in schools as a public health measure to protect the community from the spread of COVID-19.

He repeated an argument that he offered last week, that mask requirements violate a state law creating a “parents’ bill of rights.”

“When the Legislature did the parent’s bill of rights this is exactly one of the reasons why they did it because they looked and they understood certain things really should be decided by the parents and not decided by the government,” he said. “This is something that really matters for parents.”

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He said wearing masks makes it harder for students to learn, especially for younger children who are helped by being able to see faces and better understanding speech. “It’s actually harder to hear people when they’re covered in the mask. The idea that this doesn’t affect learning is total nonsense.”

State Sen. Shevrin Jones, a Broward/Miami-Dade county Democrat and former classroom teacher, said at a news conference on Friday that school policies requiring masks are legal steps to protect public health.

“Our local school board should make public health [their] chief concern in the face of political pressure that is coming out of the Governor’s Mansion and the anti-mask Republicans in Tallahassee,” Jones said. “The school boards are reacting to a surge and infections spread, and [their] top priority must be to make in-class instruction safe.”

The Republican governor is the one playing politics, Jones said. “Donald Trump’s America is still lingering around Florida and masks have become the new political talking point.”

Jones, vice chairman of the Senate Education Committee, said DeSantis is wrong about the parent’s bill of rights. He said mask requirements are not illegal. “Within that bill, the parents bill of rights, it had nothing to do when it comes to masking at all,” he said. “The parents bill of rights did not deal with this.”

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