Florida Politics | By Jason Delgado | August 10, 2021
‘They’ve not spent a single penny since COVID started studying how these mitigations affect kids.’
Gov. Ron DeSantis on Tuesday described student mask mandates as a “big experiment” with possible health and developmental consequences on youth.
Speaking to reporters in Surfside, DeSantis criticized the “big experiment” and defended his decision to block mask mandates on school grounds.
“A lot of parents have come to me … and said this has been very difficult on their young kids,” DeSantis told reporters in Surfside. “To have them sit there for eight hours with this is not natural.”
Among his reasons, DeSantis said the impacts of longterm mask wearing are unknown.
He criticized the National Institute of Health, suggesting the federal agency should explore the consequences of COVID-19 mitigation efforts.
“It’s never been studied what the effects of that are,” DeSantis said of prolonged mask-wearing. “The NIH has a $42 billion budget. They’ve not spent a single penny since COVID started studying how these mitigations affect kids.”
Issued last month, the executive order empowers the Department of Education to “pursue all legal means available” to combat student mask mandates. The state, among other methods, may impose financial consequences against school districts who violate the order.
Speaking Tuesday, DeSantis maintained his order will empower parents as decision-makers.
“It’s about parental choice, not government mandate,” DeSantis said.
Despite the order, some counties including Leon County are moving forward with public health mandates.
In many cases, school leaders point to the surge of COVID-19 cases as their motive for challenging the order. They assert the delta variant of the virus is more threatening to youth than the earlier strain.
DeSantis, however, challenged that theory.
“You’ve not seen a change in the proportion of the young people who end up being admitted,” DeSantis said of pediatric hospitalizations.
Notably, parents may opt to send their students to schools with COVID-19 protocols matching their preference under an emergency rule approved Friday by the State Board of Education.
Under the rule, students in mask-optional schools could transfer to private schools requiring masks. Alternatively, a parent may transfer their student out of a district with more relaxed policies.
DeSantis touted the flexibility afforded to parents under the rule.
“I think you should have the right to make that ultimate decision,” DeSantis said. “I don’t think government should override that.”