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

CNN logo CNN 8/4/2021 By Joe Sutton and Jason Hanna, CNN
a screen shot of a computer: The Broward County school board had voted July 28 to mandate masks. © Broward County Public Schools The Broward County school board had voted July 28 to mandate masks.

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 Republican 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.

However, the school board for Alachua County -- located in north central Florida -- voted Tuesday to require masks for the first two weeks of school, citing a "dramatic" rise of Covid-19 cases.

The district, which includes the city of Gainesville, said it would reevaluate the mask requirement at its August 17 meeting.

In northeast Florida's Duval County, the school board voted 5-2 Tuesday night to allow parents to opt their children out of wearing masks in schools.

The school district updated the mask policy in the Student Code of Conduct to say any student not wearing a mask must have their parent or guardian complete "opt-out proceedures."

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.

On Tuesday, DeSantis re-emphasized his opposition to mask mandates and economic shutdowns as measures to mitigate Covid-19.

The state, he said, will not be "shutting down; we're going to have schools open."

He said Covid-19 mitigation efforts and "interventions have failed time and time again throughout this pandemic" to prevent virus spread, "not just in the United States but abroad."

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.

Besides issuing guidance for schools, the CDC recommended last week that fully vaccinated people wear masks indoors if they're in areas with "substantial" or "high" transmission of Covid-19.

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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