Multiple county school districts in Florida are implementing mask mandates in defiance of a recent executive order from Governor Ron DeSantis. The order was made to block schools from implementing their own mandates for students, leaving any such decision to parents instead.
On Saturday, Interim Palm Beach County Superintendent Mike Burke announced that masks would be mandatory in buildings and on buses during the coming school year. Parents will still have the ability to opt out of this rule, but they will be required to send a note with their child to be presented to first-period teachers. There will be no options for faculty, staff, visitors to opt out, WPTV reports.
“Parents and guardians, I have heard your passionate pleas on both sides of this debate during school board meetings,” Burke said in a statement on the mandate. “I have also read your messages via email. I have considered all of your input. However, I must make decisions that safeguard the health and well-being of our students and staff.”
Burke added that he would be revisiting the mandate every 30 days to see if it should be amended or lifted altogether.
A similar mandate has also been issued for schools in Hillsborough County, the home of Florida’s third-largest city, Tampa. Superintendent Addison Davis made the announcement on Saturday, after having previously stated that the issue was under consideration.
Similar to the Palm Beach County order, the mandate will offer parents an opportunity for their kids to opt out. It will also be reevaluated down the line on September 3.
“We need our parents to be actively engaged and involved,” Davis told Florida’s News Channel 8. “This is why this decision allows our parents to have choice.”
Newsweek reached out to the office of Gov. DeSantis for a comment on these developments, but did not hear back before publishing time.
The University of Florida has also issued a mask mandate for all students in response to surging cases in the state. Masks will be required regardless of vaccination status and students are being strongly urged to get vaccinated before August 22. Shots will be offered on-campus for any students in need of a second shot after arriving.
“All of us at the University of Florida have an obligation to each do our part to prevent further transmission of COVID-19,” the university’s statement reads. “We are in this together, and each and every one of us plays an important role in furthering the health and safety of ourselves, our neighbors and our loved ones. It is the right thing to do—and medical experts say vaccination and masking are the best ways to do it.”
Florida has become the epicenter for the latest surge in COVID-19 cases, spurred on by the highly virulent Delta variant. According to CDC data, the Sunshine State has had nearly 135,000 confirmed cases of the virus in the last week, surpassing every other state and territory by a considerable margin.