DeSantis Threatens to Not Pay Teachers if Schools Enforce a Mask Mandate

Joe Duncan

Governor DeSantis just did what???

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis is doubling down on the effort to combat Florida schools, and teachers, while going against the overwhelming wishes of his Florida constituents. The issue in question? Florida's school mask policies.

In late July, DeSantis signed an executive order banning masks in Florida public schools. The order was simple. The point is to make sure no Florida public schools implement mask mandates. DeSantis is taking a stand against kids wearing masks to protect themselves (and their parents) from the highly contagious delta strain of COVID-19.

Legal theorists and CNN responded by reminding the governor, and those interested, that the order DeSantis signed doesn't have any teeth. That is, it contained no way to punish schools for non-compliance. There was just no way constitutionally for DeSantis to punish any schools that did go on and implement a mask mandate.

But tonight, that all has changed.

In a shocking twist, the Florida Governor has now threatened to withhold teacher pay if a school they work for enacts a mask policy. The message is loud and clear: no mask mandates or have your pay withheld.

All of this is transpiring as, right now, 94k kids tested positive for the virus just last week. And pediatric hospitalizations from the virus are reaching record levels as well. The pandemic appears to be back in full swing, especially in Florida and Texas, two hard-hit states that are digging in their heels and refusing to implement any safety precautions.

As Dr. Mark Kline, the physician in chief of Children's Hospital New Orleans, told ABC News on Good Morning America today:

"This is not your grandfather's COVID. We are hospitalizing record numbers of children."

Dr. Klein went on to explain that half of the children in the hospital are under 2 years old, with the majority of the kids older than 2 being under 5. We're talking about toddlers and infants violently sick with COVID-19. Dr. Klein described the situation as an "epidemic of very young children" with the virus.

Here in Florida, there were currently 174 pediatric patients receiving care, as of Monday morning, August 9th. Meanwhile, Governor DeSantis just refuses to budge. He went all-in on gambling with his political future, betting on the messaging that his way of dealing with the coronavirus pandemic was the best way. He began to sell merchandise on his site that said, "Don't Fauci my Florida," and other memorabilia mocking the pandemic and public health officials.

It's really hard to walk back that kind of overconfidence.

It's been a rough week for Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, as he's come under intense scrutiny from all angles over his response to the vicious COVID-19 outbreak that's sweeping across Florida right this second. He's battling with President Biden and the White House, with the two exchanging a series of statements aimed at one another. He's battling with the media who are criticizing his every step and steadfast refusal to implement additional policies to try and help curb the spread of the rapidly dispersing virus. He's battling with Florida schools who are terrified that their children and staff will go to school and come back sick...or worse.

Florida schools are pushing back against DeSantis' mask ban in schools, with many refusing to comply. Parents and teachers across the state are fed up. School board officials have told DeSantis that even if he suspended pay, many of them would simply still enact a mask policy. They're saying that their paycheck isn't worth putting kids in harm's way.

DeSantis, meanwhile, is standing by his promises not to shut down and not to implement any mask mandates. He says the people who are asking for precautionary measures as delta sweeps across the Florida peninsula are irksome, saying he's "irked" by those who want another lockdown to try and stop the virus.

DeSantis is claiming that this is all a bunch of "media hysteria," as he called it, likening it to nothing more than a political smear campaign, all while trying to downplay the fact that COVID hospitalizations are hitting record numbers in Florida.

Dr. John Brownstein told ABC News:

While severe outcomes of COVID-19 infection in pediatric populations continue to be relatively low compared to adults, the current exponential growth in hospitalizations is a very worrisome trend. As the remaining population ineligible for the vaccine, children will, unfortunately, be the main vectors of virus spread creating risk to both themselves and the rest of the population.

Florida Democrats are urging DeSantis to implement a mask mandate, both in schools and in other public places, reversing the laissez-faire approach the Governor has taken to the pandemic thus far. But as I mentioned, DeSantis has gone all-in on his ultra-libertarian approach to dealing with the pandemic and it doesn't look like he'll be changing his mind anytime soon.

This move has been deeply unpopular.

It's authoritarian and tone-deaf to what Floridians want. 62 percent of Floridians said that masks should be mandatory in school. 31.9 percent said they should not be mandatory. And only 6.1 percent were unsure whether or not masks should be mandatory in school.

DeSantis seems to have shifted too far to the right, perhaps trying to soak up Trump's base, but he's missing the mark in terms of what Florida voters want and expect from our governor.

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