Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis on Friday signed an executive order he said would effectively block local school districts from requiring masks be worn in schools.

What You Need To Know

  • The governor said the order would "protect the rights of parents to make this decision" about masks for students

  • In May, DeSantis issued an executive order suspending any local governments' COVID-19 orders put in place

  • He said young people "aren't really getting sick from it"; Orlando Health says it's treating more pediatric COVID-19 patients

The governor made the announcement at a restaurant in Cape Coral on Friday morning among a crowd of supporters and parents against mask mandates. The executive order was released Friday afternoon.

DeSantis said he thought HB 241, what the Legislature called the "Parents' Bill of Rights," that he signed after the 2021 legislative session would cover his authority to block districts from installing mask mandates.

While the new order does not explicitly say "no masks", it does heavily criticize the use of masks in schools, echoing statements DeSantis has made over the last few weeks.

The order directs the state Health and Education departments to issue emergency rules “…protecting the rights of parents to make this decision about wearing masks for their children.”

It also directs them to use "all legal means necessary" to make sure that Florida school safety protocols do not violate the constitutional freedoms of Floridians, and that those protocols do not harm children who are disabled.

He also directs the Florida education commissioner to do whatever is legally required to make sure school districts follow the law, including withholding state funds from noncompliant schools. 

In May, DeSantis issued an executive order nullifying all local government COVID-19 orders after places such as Orange County and the City of St. Petersburg issued orders that fined businesses that ignored local coronavirus safety protocols. 

School districts across the state are considering whether to require mask-wearing as the state battles another surge of COVID-19 cases driven by the highly-contagious coronavirus delta variant. With more than 17,000 new cases Tuesday, Florida saw its fifth highest day of new cases since the start of the pandemic. 

School board meetings have been heated this week, including in Orange, Seminole and Brevard counties, over the school mask issue. A contentious room full of concerned Brevard parents and guardians turned out Thursday night to a School Board meeting where the debate became heated.

​​"Good, I guess it’s up to the parents, it is our freedom to choose," saidLeeann Finnell of Viera, who is opposed to her 14-year-old being mandated to wear a mask at school. "I don’t do masks, as long as everyone is vaccinated."

"Importantly I think it’s more about protecting our kids and our teachers," said Kristin Gulliver who has a middle and elementary schooler heading back to class soon.

“I have young kids... My wife and I are not going to do the masks with the kids. We never have,” DeSantis said Friday morning. “I want to see my kids smiling; I want to see them having fun. Look, my kids are younger. Whatever you think of masks, you have to wear them properly, and my kids aren't going to wear them properly.”

DeSantis also railed against CDC guidelines and messaging.

"The seasonal wave we’re experiencing in Florida, that’s driven a lot by a lot of younger people. They’re not really getting sick from it or anything, but they’re getting it and will develop immunity as a result of those infections,” DeSantis said. “They (CDC) don’t count that, they don’t count vaccines. If a teacher is vaccinated, they say you still have to do it (wear a mask). I don’t know what message that sends.

"They’ve tried to encourage people to get vaccinated, but if you still have to suffer under the mask, what message does that send?”

Orlando Health tells Spectrum News that it's seeing more pediatric COVID-19 patients, and the American Academy of Pediatrics said 38,000 new pediatric cases were reported last week across the country.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned in an internal document that the delta variant of the coronavirus appears to spread as easily as chickenpox and likely causes more severe illness. 

Also on Thursday, AdventHealth elevated its COVID-19 status to “black” as COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations continued to rise throughout the hospital’s Central Florida network. The decision was made after AdventHealth reached 1,000 COVID patients in its network, surpassing levels seen in January 2021. “Black” status means AdventHealth will forgo nonemergency surgeries, deferring to other clinics.

Reporter Greg Pallone contributed to this story.