President Biden called school superintendents in Florida and Arizona to congratulate them on doing the right thing by implementing mask requirements in their school districts, despite the governors’ statewide bans on mask mandates.
In a statement on Saturday, the White House shared that interim Broward Superintendent Vickie Cartwright in Florida and Phoenix Union High School District Superintendent Chad Gestson in Arizona each received a call from the President. He wanted “to thank them for their leadership and discuss their shared commitment to getting all students back in safe, full-time in-person learning this school year.”
“The President commended their leadership and courage to do the right thing for the health and well-being of their students, teachers, and schools,” the statement continued.
The phone calls from the president come in the midst of local and state battles that argue if school districts should be allowed to enforce mask mandates.
One of these states receiving special federal attention is Florida. Governor Ron DeSantis has issued an executive order banning mask mandates. He maintains that masks don’t make enough of a difference in school-age children for masks to be mandated blindly on the state or local level. The governor believes that parents should be able to decide if their children should be masked.
As some school districts in Florida have attempted to defy the governor’s orders, DeSantis has threatened to fine those teachers an amount equivalent to their salaries. This past Friday, Governor DeSantis announced an emergency meeting to decide sanctions against school districts enacting mask mandates.
On that same day—the day before the president’s phone calls—U.S. Education Secretary Miguel Cardona wrote a letter to Governor DeSantis and Florida Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran expressing concerns over the mask mandate ban.
Secretary Cardona says that Florida school districts that are passing safety measures for COVID-19 could receive federal assistance. In other words, the federal government would pay for those salaries that Governor DeSantis threatened to take away.
The letter shares, “We are eager to partner with FL DOE [Florida Department of Education] on any efforts to further our shared goals of protecting the health and safety of students and educators. If FL DOE does not wish to pursue such an approach, the Department will continue to work directly with the school districts and educators that serve Florida’s students.”
Secretary Cardona adds that local leaders should be able to decide how they implement masking procedures. The U.S. Department of Education has said that DeSantis’ mask mandate ban “puts students and staff at risk.”
Other states like Illinois, Arizona, and Texas have received pushback about mask mandate bans as lawsuits have emerged. In Texas, some local districts have won temporary legal battles to instill masks in schools, despite Governor Greg Abbott’s ban.
Following one of the lower courts in Texas reinstating masks, District Judge Antonia Arteaga acknowledged how confusing the process has been for parents. “I just wanted to apologize to all those parents, school administrators, the superheroes that we call teachers for what someone called the equivalent to a legal tug of war, unfortunately where our children are right in the middle,” she says.
Abbott spokesperson Renae Eze maintains that these local governments are creating confusion.
“Any confusion stems from local officials violating the governor’s executive order in their attempt to restrict the rights and freedoms of Texans,” Eze shares in a statement. “Every Texan has a right to choose for themselves and their children whether they will wear masks, open their businesses, or get vaccinated.”
With conflicting messages on the federal, state, and local levels, it can be difficult for parents, teachers, and school administrators to decide the best course of action with masks in schools.
How do you think parents and school districts should navigate mask-wearing in schools when federal, state, and local governments are at odds?