VACCINE MANDATES | FLORIDA

What is the vaccine mandate for schools in Florida?

Florida has become the epicenter of the covid-19 pandemic in the US. With schools back in session, have any districts implemented a mask mandate?

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What is the vaccine mandate for schools in Florida?
JOE SKIPPER REUTERS

Children have returned to the classroom in Florida as the state becomes the epicenter of the covid-19 pandemic in the United States.

On July 1, 2021, the state reported 3,163 cases. On 26 August, that number was 27,584 -- an increase of 772 percent.

Led by Governor Ron DeSantis, who has prioritized individual freedom over communal health outcomes, that state faces the worst epidemiological situation it has throughout the entire crisis.

The Delta variant has ripped through the state leading, and as of 26 August, the state had reported more deaths than those seen in June and July combined.

Within days of classes beginning, at least 20,000 kids and teachers in the state’s five largest school districts had contracted or possibly been exposed to the virus.

Do any school districts in Florida require vaccines?

No, and the situation for the state’s youngest residents is worsening -- rapidly.

Child covid-19 related hospitalizations

The number of children admitted to the hospital due to a severe case of covid-19 has increased 12.5 percent in the last week.

Bloomberg has reported that “since early July the delta variant has sent 1,900 children to hospitals in Florida—more than in any other U.S. state.”

This week, the state reported it had seen a decrease in the total number of cases reported. 

However, the situation on the ground children’s hospitals, like Nemours Children’s Hospital in Orlando, is anything but improving.

Nemours’ chief of infectious diseases, Kenneth Alexander, reported to Bloomberg that seven kids were in the ICU on 24 August and that in the hospital’s “emergency room traffic is 50% to 60% higher than the seasonal norm.”

Alexander also stated that he does “think that this delta variant may be more severe in children” and is extremely concerned about keeping “the incidence of disease at school as low as we can.”

Governor Ron DeSantis banned mask and vaccine mandates in schools

Gov. Ron DeSantis is favored as a possible presidential candidate for 2024. Of Republican governor’s, Ron DeSantis has stood out in his defiance of federal policy and health guidance on the pandemic.

Over the past year, the Governor has also worked with the legislature to bolster the rights of individual citizens and parents. These pieces of legislation play a critical role in bolstering the power of the Executive Orders related to the pandemic he has enacted.

On 30 July, Gov. DeSantis signed an Executive Order banning "political subdivisions" like cities and countries from implementing mask mandates in schools.

One of the justifications cited was the recently passed Parents Bill of Rights, which “prevents the state, its subdivisions, or any governmental institution, from infringing on the fundamental rights of a parent to direct the upbringing, education, health care, or mental health of a minor child."  The Order also outlines that districts that mandate masks could have funding withheld or transferred.

Have any districts gone ahead and implemented a mandate?

Yes. Seven districts have defined the Governor and implemented a mask requirement in schools unless a child can provide a note from their doctor.

On Friday, 27 August, a Tallassee judge upheld a lawsuit filed by a group of parents who wanted to see a mask mandate implemented in their child's school district. In his ruling, Judge John Cooper stated that Gov. DeSantis' ban put children at risk.

What does the public believe in regards to mask mandates in schools?

A survey conducted by Florida Atlantic University found that 51 percent of respondents believed parents should have the final authority over whether or not their child wears a mask to school. However, two-thirds also reported that they believe school districts should have the authority to implement a mask mandate.

As for vaccines, DeSantis included bans on mandates when he lifted all covid-19 emergency restrictions on 3 May 2021. The order states that all covid-19 emergency restrictions implemented by “political subdivisions,” like cities and towns, “which restricts the rights or liberties of individuals or their businesses,” are invalid. This order applies to vaccine mandates.

While the FAU poll did not ask if districts should be able to implement a vaccine mandate, the survey did find that "roughly 76 percent of the parents indicate that their children [12-18] have either received at least one shot of the COVID-19 vaccine or plan to receive it."

How has the way Gov. DeSantis has handled the pandemic impacted his approval rating?

In early August, before the state’s epidemiological crisis truly began, found that 48 percent of likely voters do not approve of the job Gov. DeSantis is doing. The poll was conducted by St.Pete Polling and found that while support stands at around 70 percent from Republicans, his numbers with independents stand at 38.7 percent.

Additionally, when asked, “When schools start classes later this month in Florida, do you think that masks should be required for all children?” 62% of respondents said yes, including two-thirds of likely independent voters.