After months of legal challenges, heated school board meetings, and confusion among parents, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a bill earlier this month that prohibits schools from mandating masks for students.
Carlee Simon, the superintendent of one of the last school districts in the state to drop their mandate, Alachua County Public Schools, wrote an op-ed last week criticizing the anti-mask mandate law — and now Education Secretary Miguel Cardona is backing her up.
“This isn’t complicated & Superintendent Simon is right. As educators, it’s our job to keep our schools safe and that requires masks,” Cardona tweeted on Monday.
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis’s office hit back at the criticism on Monday, arguing that “forced-masking schoolchildren is absolutely not the ‘scientific consensus.’”
“Secretary Cardona’s obsession with forcing children to cover their faces is rooted in politics, not public health,” Christina Pushaw, DeSantis’s press secretary, told Fox News on Monday.
“It is not the role of the government to force kids to wear masks. Governor DeSantis believes parents know their own kids best, and he trusts parents to make the right decisions for their children.”
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Simon, meanwhile, argued that that the law takes away “mitigation strategies” like masks and quarantines that schools have used to fight the pandemic.
“If another surge comes to Florida, schools will have been hamstrung by state leaders more concerned about appeasing their governor and his political base than promoting the health and well-being of their constituents,” Simon wrote.
While some studies have shown that masks can help slow the spread of COVID-19, there is also evidence that masking may be detrimental to the development of young children.
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“Masks worn in public settings and in school or daycare settings may impact a range of early developing skills, such as attachment, facial processing, and socioemotional processing,” Brown University researchers wrote in a study in August.
The World Health Organization advises that children younger than 5 shouldn’t wear masks, and children between 6 and 11 years of age should only wear masks under certain circumstances.
Severe illness from COVID-19 in children appears to be rare, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. Children accounted for roughly 25.1% of all cases reported in the United States between Nov. 11 and Nov. 18, but only account for 1.7%-4.0% of hospitalizations and 0.00%-0.25% of all COVID-19 deaths.
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The Biden administration has threatened legal action against several states that have refused to implement mask mandates in schools, but Cardona said he is reluctant to withhold federal funds from those districts.
“I don’t know that holding funds from students is the best approach,” Cardona told Axios last month. “Ultimately, the students need more support, not less.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.