President of Florida Education Association applauds schools adding mask mandates, defying governor

ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. — The president of the Florida Education Association is applauding the decisions of Alachua and Duval counties for listening to and following the advice of medical professionals in their communities, effectively defying Gov. Ron DeSantis.

It’s the first shift in strategy seen locally for school districts after the mask talk once again took center stage.

”We want to make sure that our teachers and staff are healthy and safe,” said Andrew Spar, president of the Florida Education Association.

READ: OCPS to require employees, visitors to wear face masks while indoors

The association’s 150,000 members were ready to return to the classroom and had been less concerned about the coronavirus.

”Two weeks ago, three weeks ago, we were thinking this is going to be a pretty normal school year,” Spar said.

Cases were down statewide, and that’s why all of Florida’s school districts had a mask-optional policy.

READ: Orange County COVID-19 death rate on the rise, but lower than previous surges, officials say

The recent rapid rise in cases led school districts to revisit their “face covering” conversations.

DeSantis stepped in and signed an executive ordering barring school districts from mandating masks.

“It threatens school districts with the loss of funding,” Spar said. “And if you lose funding, you can’t operate.”

READ: ‘I was going to die’: ECMO machine credited with saving the most severe COVID-19 patients’ lives

As for the school districts that defied the governor, Spar said, “It’s somewhat surprising, and I’m glad they’re doing it. And at the end of the day, this should be a local decision.”

Orange County stopped short of saying students must wear masks, so the superintendent announced all employees and visitors must mask up this school year inside buildings and vehicles. The mandate is in effect from Aug. 6 through the next 30 days.

The governor’s team said in a prepared statement that the Department of Health will enter rule-making in collaboration with the Department of Education to protect parents’ freedom to choose whether their children wear masks.

Adam Poulisse, WFTV.com

Adam Poulisse joined WFTV in November 2019.