Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis on Friday signed an executive order making mask-wearing optional in the state’s public schools.
The announcement came after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Tuesday issued new guidance for K-12 schools recommending universal indoor masking for all teachers, staff and students, regardless of COVID-19 vaccination status.
“The federal government has no right to tell parents that in order for their kids to attend school in person, they must be forced to wear a mask all day, every day,” DeSantis said in a Friday statement. “Many Florida schoolchildren have suffered under forced masking policies, and it is prudent to protect the ability of parents to make decisions regarding the wearing of masks by their children.”
The governor’s office said in a press release that the order reinforces parents’ right to choose what is best for their children.
The order also came in response to a number of local school boards considering mask mandates after the Biden administration issued “unscientific and inconsistent recommendations that school-aged children wear masks,” the governor’s office said in the release.
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DeSantis has taken the opposite position of many Democratic governors and state lawmakers over the past year in regard to mandates related to COVID-19, such as lockdowns and mask mandates. Schools in Florida, for example, have been open for in-person learning since October of 2020.
Mask mandates in public schools across the country have sparked debate among parents, with some arguing that children should wear masks in school if they learn in person to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and others arguing against mandates due to the relatively low number of COVID-19 deaths among children.
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CDC officials cited concerning data involving the delta variant in advising that universal mask mandates be in place for K-12 schools, where the majority of the student population has not been vaccinated. The U.S. has not authorized any of the COVID-19 vaccines for kids under 12, and only about 30% of adolescents ages 12-17 have received one.
“Although this number is relatively low, there are still a significant number of kids being hospitalized,” Dr. Steven Abelowitz, MD, FAAP, regional director of Coastal Kids Pediatrics, previously told Fox News. “And the amount of deaths in children is not insignificant. In other words, to date there are more than twice the amount of child deaths from COVID-19 than from the flu since the beginning of the pandemic.”
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The delta variant, which behaves drastically different than other strains of coronavirus, is peaking particularly among areas with low vaccination rates, and at a time when schools are preparing to welcome students back for in-person learning.
More than 10 million Florida residents have been fully vaccinated against the virus, or more than 60% of the state’s population, according to the state’s health department, which has reported an increased number of positive cases within the past two months. Florida recorded nearly 16,000 cases for the week of June 25 compared to more than 110,000 cases this week.
Fox News’ Alexandria Hein contributed to this report.