Millions of kids in Florida, Texas, and Arizona are compelled to wear masks to school, as school boards in predominantly Democratic districts impose anti-COVID rules in defiance of their Republican governors.
Millions of children in Florida, Texas, and Arizona are now obliged to wear masks in class after school boards in predominantly Democratic states disobeyed Republican governors and mandated the use of facial coverings.
The three states are all hotspots for the recent COVID-19 outbreak in the United States, and defiant school boards in Miami, Dallas, Houston, and Phoenix, among other cities, argue that requiring masks protects students, teachers, and staff from contracting and spreading the virus as many pediatric hospitals fill.
Districts frequently reference the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which recommends that all teachers, staff, and students wear masks regardless of vaccination status.
“This monster (the virus) is not playing games with us,” Marcia Andrews, a member of the Palm Beach County, Florida, school board, told the Palm Beach Post this week as the board approved a mask rule. “I’m not interested in witnessing a child die.”
The governors say that masks inhibit learning and do nothing to prevent the spread of the virus, although children seldom become really ill from the disease. They argue such requirements infringe on parents’ rights to decide how to best safeguard their children.
“Texans, not government, should determine their best health practices, which is why masks will not be imposed by public school districts or government entities,” Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said in announcing the state’s prohibition on municipal mask mandates.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis referenced a Brown University research that investigated schools in New York, Florida, and Massachusetts in a July executive order prohibiting masks. He stated that research demonstrated that masks in schools made no impact, but omitted one caveat: It studied instances connected with schools, not cases distributed inside schools.
Emily Oster, a Brown economist who was one of the research’s authors, subsequently stated that she was not contacted by the governor and that the study used data from before the development of the more infectious delta form. She is an advocate for the use of masks in classrooms.
Dr. Jessica Snowden, a pediatric infectious disease expert at Arkansas Children’s Hospital, said that when used regularly, masks have been shown to reduce the transmission of the infection among children. She said that the delta variation infects children more frequently and makes them worse than the variants from the previous year and that masks have no effect on learning.
“There is a wealth of data that masking is beneficial, and there is no evidence that it is harmful,” she added. “Children are far more adaptive than adults.”
Florida and Texas together account for 15% of the US population yet account for 28% of recent COVID-19 cases, according to the CDC, and both states’ hospitalization rates have skyrocketed in the last two months. COVID-19 cases in Arizona have increased sixfold since June.
Mask policies at public schools around the United States differ significantly. Eleven states, including California, Illinois, Louisiana, and Kentucky, require masks, whereas Florida, Texas, and five additional states, including Utah, Tennessee, Oklahoma, Iowa, and South Carolina, ban mandates. Arizona’s prohibition takes effect on September 29. The remaining states defer to the local authority.
Gov. Doug Ducey of Arizona this week banned districts that require masks from accessing a $163 million virus relief fund and said parents may get up to $7,000 per student for private school tuition if their district requires masks or enters quarantine. Over two dozen districts mandate masks, accounting for over a third of the state’s 930,000 public school children.
“While safety recommendations are appreciated and encouraged, requirements that impose additional burdens on kids and families are not,” Ducey said in a statement.
Save Our Schools, an Arizona organization that successfully eliminated the state’s voucher program claimed Ducey is attempting to reinstate public financing for private schools through COVID-19.
“We are prepared to oppose these despicable policies,” the organization stated in a statement.
In Texas, the state’s largest districts, including Dallas, Houston, San Antonio, and Austin, have defied Abbott and implemented mask requirements. Abbott, who just tested positive for the virus, issuing the districts, but they are standing their ground. The Texas Supreme Court ruled Thursday that districts may continue to impose masks until the outcome of the legal dispute.
“We will maintain our mask mandate in order to protect children, parents, families, and, most importantly, our teachers,” Dallas school administrator Michael Hinojosa stated.
In Florida, where the debate is particularly acrimonious, DeSantis and the state Board of Education, which he appoints, have threatened to withhold funding from districts that enforce rules that do not allow parents to opt-out easily. Additionally, the law allows kids who believe they are being intimidated into wearing a mask to seek a private school voucher.
“Forcing young children, these kindergartners, to wear masks all day and having the government enforce it is not disobeying me; it is breaking the State of Florida’s laws,” DeSantis stated this week. “This is not a fabrication.”
However, four of Florida’s five major school districts — Miami-Dade, Broward, Hillsborough, and Palm Beach counties — as well as the mid-sized Alachua, which is home to the University of Florida, have implemented mask regulations with exceptions only granted by a physician. They account for more than a third of the 2.8 million public school students in the state.
Miami-Dade, the nation’s fourth-largest school system with 341,000 kids, enacted the mask rule Wednesday, hours after Superintendent Albert Carvalho assured the state board that the district would not back down.
“I will gladly wear the repercussions of doing the right thing, whatever that right thing is,” Carvalho told The Miami Herald.
DeSantis has charged the recalcitrant boards with political meddling.
The five Florida districts with strong mask mandates are all Democratic strongholds that voted for President Joe Biden in November, despite the fact that former President Donald Trump won the state. Biden recently assured districts that the federal government will make up for any funding losses imposed by the state due to requirements.