Florida to consider punishing districts for enforcing mask mandates

Author: CBS News Staff
Student in school wearing a mask. Credit: CBS

Children make up more than a quarter of new COVID-19 cases nationwide and less than half of eligible kids are fully vaccinated.

Nearly 850,000 child COVID cases have been reported over the past four weeks, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Children’s Hospital Association

The Florida Department of Education will meet Thursday to consider possible punishments for districts enforcing mask mandates.

Gov. Ron DeSantis issued an executive order in July requiring all state school districts to make “masks optional.”

DeSantis’ mask mandate has some Florida parents turning to remote learning instead of sending their children to the classrooms.

Fourth-grader Reefy Kinder has been learning virtually for almost two years.

“Every night, I wish upon a star for so I can go back in person,” she told CBS News’ Omar Villafranca. Reefy said she misses socializing with her friends.

Reefy had 30 surgeries over six years, leaving her immunocompromised. Her parents and doctor decided not to send her to school in person this year because there’s no mask mandate in their county.

“It was too dangerous if you ask me for the other kids to go in without masks, let alone a child who is immunocompromised,” her mother Jamie Kinder said.

The Kinders and 10 other families are part of a federal lawsuit against Florida DeSantis, the state Department of Education and several school districts. The lawsuit alleges an executive order from DeSantis banning mask mandates violates the Americans with Disabilities Act.

“Schools should be safe for all of the population, not just the people that believe in the governor at the time,” Jamie said.

A new state rule also lets families decide whether or not to send their child to school after being exposed to COVID-19.

“Anyone that may have been in contact without symptoms should be able to stay in school, they can be monitored, the parents can be notified that there may have been a case. The parents have the right to have their healthy children in school,” DeSantis announced in September.

Pediatrician Candice Jones said kids like Reefy need multiple layers of protection against COVID-19.

“We need to do everything: hand hygiene, mask, social distancing, ventilation, all of those things,” Jones told CBS News.

For Reefy that means staying home until there’s a mask mandate or she is eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine.

“We want a decision or a vaccine because she wants to go to school,” Jamie said.

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