Republican-led Florida county defies GOP Gov. Ron DeSantis on school mask ban

Ron DeSantis
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks at a press conference at LifeScience Logistics to urge the Biden administration to approve Florida's plan to import prescription drugs from Canada, thereby saving Floridians an estimated $100 million annually on drug costs.
  • The Sarasota County School Board on Friday became the sixth district in Florida to require masks.
  • In a 3-2 vote, the board enacted a 90-day mask mandate in defiance of an order from Gov. DeSantis.
  • The State Board of Education wants to withhold the salaries of school officials who flout the order.
  • See more stories on Insider's business page.

After an impassioned meeting, school officials in a Republican-leaning Florida county on Friday voted to enact a 90-day mask mandate for students and staff, defying an executive order from GOP Gov. Ron DeSantis that bars such requirements.

In a 3-2 vote, the Sarasota County School Board became the sixth district in the state to require masks.

During the emergency meeting, the board said that it would drop the mandate if the county's positivity rate declined below 8% for three consecutive days, but would be restored if the positivity rate rose above 10%.

The average 14-day positivity rate in the county is 18%, according to The New York Times COVID-19 tracking page.

At the five-hour meeting, scores of parents and residents came to protest the decision, with some saying they were "disgusted" and "mad as heck" over the board's actions, according to Politico.

Board member Jane Goodwin expressed that the body needed to take action as cases throughout the county and state have risen dramatically in recent weeks with the spread of the highly infectious Delta variant.

"My fear is that if we do not do this, if we do not put some teeth into this, do not stand up for this and our right to make that decision, we will be making the wrong decision," she said at the meeting.

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Sarasota County schools, with approximately 43,000 students, joins Democratic-leaning Miami-Dade, Alachua, Broward, Hillsborough, and Palm Beach counties in defying rules written by the DeSantis administration intended to bar school systems from mandating masks.

Out of the group of counties that are currently defying DeSantis, Sarasota is the only jurisdiction that backed former President Donald Trump over now-President Joe Biden in the 2020 election.

Sarasota school leaders have said that the newest wave of COVID-19 infections driven by the Delta variant have strained its resources.

As of Saturday, the school district reported that 315 students had contracted COVID-19 and were isolating, along with 59 staff members.

Sarasota schools superintendent Brennan Asplen asked the board to let student opt out of mask wearing, saying he wanted to "make sure we are careful not to break the law," according to Politico.

Board member Bridget Ziegler agreed with Asplen, saying she didn't want to invite possible sanctions.

"I'm highly concerned that we would be adopting something that many on this board have recognized is against the law," she said at the meeting.

Last week, DeSantis pledged to withhold the salaries of school board members who flouted his ban on mask mandates - a Broward County school official even told the governor to "bring it" over his threat.

The State Board of Education on Friday gave the Alachua and Broward school boards 48 hours to reverse their mask mandates or they would withhold an amount equal to their salaries until they obey the order from the state.

The Biden administration last week offered to use federal COVID-19 funds to plug in salaries for school leaders that are cut as a result of district-initiated mask mandates.

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