GOP senator is latest to disagree with Florida governor’s ban on school mask mandates

School districts, parents and even GOP allies disagree with new ban on school mask mandates in Florida

Sheila Flynn
Sunday 08 August 2021 18:57 BST
Fauci says vaccinated Americans could be forced to wear masks again

A Republican senator from Louisiana and longtime physician has criticized the decision of his fellow party member, Florida Gov Ron DeSantis, to ban mask mandates in public schools.

“I’m a conservative,” Sen Bill Cassidy said on Sunday on CNN’s State of the Union. “I think you govern best when you govern closest to the people being governed.

“And if the local community ... their ICU is full, and the people at the local schools see that they’ve got to make sure they stay open because otherwise children miss out for another year of school, and they put in policy, then the local officials should be listened to.”

“I don’t want to top down from Washington DC I don’t want to top down from a governor’s office,” he added.

The Delta variant has ravaged Louisiana as well as Florida, which recorded its highest daily case total last week since the beginning of the pandemic.

Sen Cassidy continued: “When it comes to local conditions, if my hospital is full and my vaccination rate is low and infection rate is going crazy, we should allow local officials to make those decisions best for their community.”

Before his entry into politics, Sen Cassidy earned a reputation for his own involvement in community health in Louisiana, not only teaching at a hospital for the uninsured but also co-founding the Greater Baton Rouge Community Clinic offering free care and spearheading a campaign to vaccinate 36,000 children against Hepatitis B.

Gov DeSantis, who worked as a lawyer before taking over leadership of the state and who is expected to make a presidential bid, has decreed that parents can “opt out” of their children’s mask requirement and even threatened to withhold funds from schools that don’t comply – though that hasn’t stopped various Florida districts from defying him.

Texas Gov Greg Abbott also banned mask mandates, as did Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson. But school districts and communities are not taking such legal measures lying down.

The CDC recommends that all students, teachers, staff and visitors to K-12 schools should be masked, regardless of vaccination status.

A judge in Arkansas on Friday temporarily blocked the state’s Republican officials from enforcing a ban on mask mandates, allowing schools and public buildings to require face coverings to mitigate the risk of surging Covid-19 infections from the Delta variant.

In Florida, the court challenges to governor’s contradictory school mask policy have already begun rolling in. One suit, filed on behalf of a Florida father with an asthmatic child ineligible for the vaccine, points out the high state Covid rates and claims that “the danger to the Plaintiff and his children and all others they come into contact with is severe, unreasonable, and growing by the day”.

Another lawsuit filed on behalf of Florida parents argues the state’s constitution guarantees a safe school environment and provides counties with the abilities to govern themselves, with attorney Charles Gallagher telling CNN: “They are framing this as a parent choice issue when this is really a public health issue.”

President Joe Biden has told governors such as Mr DeSantis to “get out of the way” when it came to mask policies, but on Friday, White House press secretary Jen Psaki went a step further – accusing Mr DeSantis of profiteering from a public health threat.

“I will say, as a parent myself of two young children, that I want public health officials to make decisions about how to keep my kids safe, not politicians,” she said. “And not only is Governor DeSantis not abiding by public health decisions, he’s fundraising off this.”

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