MIAMI (CBSMiami) - Saying he was protecting the rights of parents, Gov. Ron DeSantis has doubled down on his stance of no mask mandates for students in schools.
Speaking at a restaurant in Cape Coral, DeSantis said he's heard rumors that the federal government and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control were considering new restrictions.
"I just want to say in Florida, there will be no lockdowns, there will be no school closures, there will be no restrictions and no mandates in the state of Florida. Floridians have been and will remain free to choose what's best for themselves and their families. We will protect their right to work, will protect the right of businesses to operate, and we will protect the right of our kids to attend school in person," said DeSantis.
The governor said very few school districts in the state are requiring masks in school. He said there's been a lot of push from the CDC to have students and staff wear masks in school in the new school year and that is a mistake.
DeSantis said in the last school year, many school districts and some private schools required students and staff to wear masks. He said about 20 to 25 school districts did not.
"A study at a Brown University looked at case rates in schools in Florida, Massachusetts, and New York. They found, and this is a very credible study, no correlation of case rates and mask mandates. In other words, you had schools that did not have mandates that had similar outcomes as the ones that did require it," said DeSantis.
WATCH: Gov. DeSantis News Conference In Cape Coral
The governor said based on last year, those mask mandates in schools had virtually no impact on the overall shape of the viral curve. He said the recent surge is seasonal.
"The CDC's own estimate in March was at 41 percent of K through 12 students had already recovered from COVID. If you look at the the The seasonal wave we're experiencing in Florida that's being driven by a lot of younger people, they're not getting really sick from it or anything, but they are getting it. They will develop immunity as a result of those infections," said DeSantis.
The governor said there's no end in sight to what the CDC's policies will do.
"We were told that the off-ramp was vaccination. Now, we're told that that's not going to be the case. And yet, you're going to have to do masking, you may have to do restrictions and potentially other severe forms of mitigation, which we know will have a devastating impact on so many people's lives and livelihoods and freedoms. So CDCs policies, by doing this so ham-handedly, by not looking at things like the Brown study, it really shows a callous disregard for the physical, emotional, and academic well being of our children," said DeSantis.
The governor signed an Executive Order to allow parents to make decisions for their children regarding mask wearing and which would overturn any school mask mandate.
"We believe freedom, liberty, and personal responsibility are paramount to our democracy and should always be protected, which is why trusting local governments to make decisions that protect the healthcare of our children is critical," state Democratic leader Lauren Book in a statement. "We also believe in science, and the numbers don't lie: data shows COVID-19 surging in our communities with hospitalizations of younger residents on the rise. With 1 in 5 COVID cases nationwide originating in the state of Florida, we urge the Governor to stop grandstanding and start leading."
The governor's order goes a step further by allowing the State Board of Education to take away state funding from school districts that violate the order.
The Order reads, "if the State Board of Education determines that a district school board is unwilling or unable to comply with the law, the State Board shall have the authority to, among other things, withhold the transfer of state funds, discretionary grant funds, discretionary lottery funds, or any other funds specified as eligible for this purpose by the Legislature until the school district complies with the law or state board rule and declare the school district ineligible for competitive grants."
In addition to announcing his Executive Order, DeSantis has suggested the possibility of calling a special legislative session to counter any moves by the federal government to require students to wear masks.
Wednesday, the Broward County School Board voted unanimously to make the use of masks mandatory for the start of the school year. Initially, the district was poised to make mask-wearing voluntary, but after the CDC recommended masks for grades K through 12 on Tuesday, most board members agreed that caution was necessary.
"The School Board of Broward County will review Governor DeSantis' Executive Order once it is issued and consider what adjustments may be necessary to make to our face covering policy," the district said in a statement.
"We are extremely disappointed that Gov. DeSantis is choosing not to follow CDC guidelines for a disease that is as transmissible as chicken pox and more transmissible than the flu or common cold. He advocated for people to get the vaccine. Why is he against masks? BTU will continue to advocate for mask wearing by staff and students while COVID numbers and hospitalizations are surging," Broward Teachers Union President Anna Fusco said in a statement.
Miami-Dade schools said earlier this week that no decision had been made regarding masks.
"We have not seen yet the actual executive order. We understand, based on the press conference the governor held, that the governor will seek to protect parents' rights and provide guidance to the Department of Education and the Department of Health statewide on how to enforce those protections. So I look forward to reading the details of this executive order. But look, I have been very clear, I believe generalized announcements via executive order or state statute that don't differentiate conditions, which can vary significantly from South Florida to Central Florida to the Panhandle that don't into account how different those conditions may be and the impacts it may have may not be in the best interest of our community," said Miami-Dade Schools Superintendent Alberto Carvalho.
The Superintendent said they have a meeting scheduled with the district's health advisers on how to proceed.
The Florida Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics on Thursday called for the "universal" use of masks in schools. Meanwhile, the state's largest teachers union issued a statement Friday that supported local decision-making on health and safety issues.
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