How do orders easing COVID-19 restrictions throughout Florida impact Tampa Bay schools?

8 On Your Side

TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — One day after Gov. Ron DeSantis signed two executive orders ending local COVID-19 restrictions throughout the state, many Floridians still have unanswered questions and some are down right confused.  

It’s business as usual at Tampa Bay area schools for now, but 8 On Your Side has discovered state orders may tie the hands of schools and impact their mask policies in the fall.

Hours after the two controversial executive orders were signed, the Florida Department of Education issued a clarification stating the orders impact city and county governments. Spokeswoman Cheryl Etters wrote neither order impacts “any school district’s policies for the remainder of the 2020-21 school year.”

One by one, Tampa Bay area school districts including Hillsborough, Manatee and Polk headed to social media to notify parents that nothing had changed.

But some districts, including Pinellas County, already have said the last day for mandatory masks will be the last day of school.

Pinellas County Schools Superintendent Dr. Michael Grego had a message Tuesday for those frustrated with face coverings.

“I know we can collectively and together, without getting angry, get through the next three and a half weeks. That’s our goal,” said Dr. Grego.

The governor’s two executive orders clearly put restrictions on local governments in the future. But what about our schools?

At a news conference in Miami on Tuesday, Gov. DeSantis once again clarified his view on masking students.

“I personally do not believe the juice is worth the squeeze in terms of putting masks on the kids at this juncture, given the data,” Gov. DeSantis said.

But what if a school district sees it differently in the future? Could they be prevented from requiring masks in the fall?

8 On Your Side has learned Executive Order 21-101 that puts restrictions on political subdivision(s) of the state could apply to schools under some interpretations. That’s why some school districts are now consulting their lawyers.

The hope is that COVID is not going to be a concern this fall. But if it is, will schools be able to react how they see fit?

8 On Your Side is waiting for clarification from the Florida Department of Education.

Here’s the current guidance and statement from the FL DOE:

“Questions have arisen over the impacts of the Executive Orders EO-21-101, which is not effective until July 1, 2021, and EO-21-102, which is effective immediately.

To clarify, EO-21-102 only impacts city and county governments, and does NOT impact school districts and individual schools.

Moreover, EO-21-101 and EO-21-102 only impacts restrictive COVID-19 orders/ordinances that are adopted through emergency enactment.

Neither EO-21-101 nor EO-21-102 impact any school district’s policies for the remainder of the 2020-21 school year.”

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