OPINION: This article contains commentary which reflects the author's opinion
Florida Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis is doubling down on his efforts to allow school children and their parents to choose for themselves whether they should wear masks against school boards insistent on implementing mask mandates.
Although heavily criticized by his Democrat opponents and the corporate press, DeSantis’ efforts have been largely supported by families concerned about the wellbeing of children who were forced indoors last year, who were subsequently forced to wear masks by teachers concerned over the spread of the coronavirus.
More than just signing an ineffective executive order, the governor intends to enforce his policy of allowing parents to make decisions about their children’s education and health care, and he’s using the state’s apparatus to ensure compliance from school boards and their members.
On Monday, the governor’s office announced that the Florida Board of Education could withhold the salaries of superintendents and school board members who defy the governor’s executive order prohibiting their proposed mandates.
The governor’s office falls in line with the “fund students, not systems” mantra popularized by the American Federation for Children’s National Director of Research Corey DeAngelis, a crusader for school choice.
In a statement to CBS4, the governor’s office wrote:
“With respect to enforcing any financial consequences for noncompliance of state law regarding these rules and ultimately the rights of parents to make decisions about their children’s education and health care decisions, it would be the goal of the State Board of Education to narrowly tailor any financial consequences to the offense committed. For example, the State Board of Education could move to withhold the salary of the district superintendent or school board members, as a narrowly tailored means to address the decision-makers who led to the violation of law.
“Education funding is intended to benefit students first and foremost, not systems. The Governor’s priorities are protecting parents’ rights and ensuring that every student has access to a high-quality education that meets their unique needs.”
“When the wellbeing of our students and our constitutional freedoms are at stake, we will stand up for Florida families,” said DeSantis in a statement on Friday when the Florida Department of Education’s published of its rules to protect parents rights.
“Giving parents options to make these decisions is not controversial,” the governor added. “I’m proud that today we took action to make sure school administrators respect parents’ rights to make educational and healthcare decisions for their families. I will continue to fight to protect Florida’s families from government overreach and to preserve their God-given rights.”
“The Governor is committed to protecting the rights of parents to make the best decisions for the wellbeing of their children,” said First Lady Casey DeSantis. “To that end, the Florida Hope Scholarship Program that provides funding for a public-school student to transfer to another public or private school in the unfortunate situation where a student has been subjected to bullying, harassment, or intimidating treatment at school, is in line with parental choice. I commend the State Board of Education for providing clear instruction that a student will be eligible for a Hope Scholarship if COVID-19 related harassment occurs – a proactive step to ensure clarity in our shared commitment to protect the rights of students and families.”
“The health and wellbeing of our students and educators is of incredible importance, and this rule outlines safety protocols that will allow our children to remain in the school setting,” said Surgeon General Dr. Scott Rivkees. “Our integrated public health system will continue working closely with the Department of Education and school districts statewide to foster a healthy and productive learning environment for all children in Florida.”
“From the beginning of the pandemic, Governor DeSantis has been crystal clear that we need to put the welfare of our children – especially our most vulnerable children – at the forefront of our efforts, while empowering parents by putting them in the driver’s seat to make educational and health care decisions for their family,” said FLDOE Commissioner Richard Corcoran. “These rules help accomplish just that: Protect families’ privacy over health-related decisions and protect students from retribution for those decisions.”
“I very much appreciate the vision and steadfast leadership of Governor DeSantis throughout this pandemic,” said State Board Chair Tom Grady. “Time and time again, he has made strategic and well-informed decisions to ensure our students continue to receive a world-class education based on data and facts – not fear. We are truly lucky and fortunate to have such a principled Governor leading Florida.”