Lee School District defends emergency mask mandate | News, Sports, Jobs
The Lee County School District provided a response to the Florida Department of Education, which gave the district until 10 a.m. today to complete its “Inconsistency” with a state regulation on mask requirements.
Although one of Gov. Ron DeSanti’s executive order requires a parental opt-out provision for any local mask mandate imposed by school districts, the district imposed a 30-day emergency mandate based on the number of COVID cases in Lee County.
The district responded to the DOE by letter saying that the district complied with the FLDOH emergency rule and the Parents’ Bill of Rights passed in the previous legislature. It also states that the district is constitutional “Empowered to act to protect its students and employees” given the increasing number of COVID cases and hospitalizations.
“In the past week, the SDLC received 2,866 reports of school contacts and reported positives.” The county responded. “As a result of the above-mentioned COVID-19 cases with predominantly delta variants, the SDLC had to close ninety-two (92) classrooms since the beginning of the school year 2021-22 (4 weeks). In comparison, during the entire 2020-21 school year within the SDLC, seventy-six (76) classrooms were closed due to COVID-19. This is leading to an increase in weekly school closings of over 1089% and an increase in COVID-19 positive cases and exposures never seen before on the SDLC before that point in time.
The district also posted an abbreviated statement for the parents on the district website.
“The Lee County School District has a constitutional duty, legal authority, and primary responsibility to provide a safe learning environment for all students and staff.” the message to parents published today reads.
“Since the beginning of this year we have been hospitalizing students and staff, and staff have died from this deadly virus. We had to close 92 classrooms, compared to 76 for the entire 2020/21 school year. This is leading to an increase in weekly school closings of over 1089% during a spike in COVID-19 like we have never seen before.
“We consider 30 days of temporary masking in conditions far worse than at any time during this pandemic to be essential to contain the spread of a highly contagious virus and protect and potentially save lives.
“It is the position of this district that our temporary masking requirement, along with all of our other mitigation efforts, is necessary, sensible, narrow, and the least restrictive to address the health crisis in our community.”
The local mask mandate came into effect on September 1st.
The DOE letter from Commissioner Richard Corcoran was dated September 3 and was sent to Superintendent Dr. Ken Savage and school committee chair Debbie Jordan sent. It dealt with compliance with an emergency rule by the Florida Department of Health and a ruling by Leon County Judge John C. Cooper who found that Governor Ron DeSantis had exceeded his powers by issuing an executive order banning such mandates.
“Recent media reports indicate that the Lee County School Board has taken action contrary to the Emergency Rule by restricting or conditioning parents’ ability to opt out of a face or mask requirement. Their reasoning may be based on Judge Cooper’s recent order; However; at this point an automatic stay is in effect. This means the Department of Education can resume enforcement of the Florida Department of Health’s emergency rule. If the suspension is lifted, the enforcement measures will be automatically suspended. “ Corcoran wrote in the letter.
The State Board of Education oversees the performance of the district school authorities in enforcing all laws and regulations, and the education officer can “Investigate allegations of non-compliance with any state board law or regulation and determine the likely cause.” Under that law, the commissioner, at the start of the investigation, requested that the Lee County School District provide a written response within the set time to document how they are complying with the Florida Department of Health’s emergency rules.
Letter to the education officer regarding face covering