Florida’s Broward County school district reverses its mask mandate after funding threat from the governor

Florida’s second-largest school district said it will withdraw its mask mandate after the governor threatened to withhold funding from districts that require face coverings.

South Florida’s Broward County Public Schools had announced last week that the district would require everyone in their buildings to wear masks to guard against Covid-19. That came after the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued new guidance recommending everyone in K-12 schools wear a mask regardless of vaccination status.

But Friday, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis issued an executive order preventing mask mandates in schools. The order threatens to withhold state funding from schools that implement one.

“Broward County Public Schools intends to comply with the governor’s latest executive order,” the school district said in an online statement released this week.

“Safety remains our highest priority. The district will advocate for all eligible students and staff to receive vaccines and strongly encourage masks to be worn by everyone in schools,” the statement reads. “The district will also work to adhere to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines, including frequent cleaning and disinfecting of our schools, physical distancing, hand washing, and staying home when sick.”

Broward County, situated just north of Miami-Dade County, includes Fort Lauderdale.

What does the order mean?

A news release from DeSantis’ office said executive order 21-175 was issued “in response to several Florida school boards considering or implementing mask mandates in their schools after the Biden Administration issued unscientific and inconsistent recommendations that school-aged children wear masks.”

It adds that this was done “to protect parents’ freedom to choose whether their children wear masks.”

The order states that if the State Board of Education finds a school district board unwilling or unable to comply, it is able to withhold the transfer of state funds, discretionary grant funds or discretionary lottery funds.

The board can also declare a school ineligible for competitive grants if the district doesn’t comply.

The CDC’s latest masking guidance was issued amid rising cases of the Delta coronavirus variant in parts of the country with low vaccination rates.

In Florida, cases of Covid-19 have risen steadily in recent weeks, with the number of new cases per week jumping by 50% last week from the previous week, according to a weekly situation report released by the Florida Department of Health.

More than 110,400 cases were reported over the seven-day period ending July 29, with the week prior reporting 73,000 and the two previous weeks tallying 45,000 cases and 23,000 cases, respectively.

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