ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (WFLA) — The battle between the White House and Florida’s governor over students wearing masks played out in Pinellas County on the first day of school Wednesday.
Gov. Ron DeSantis vowed to ‘fight back vociferously’ against any attempts to undermine his executive order giving parents the right to decide whether students wear masks in schools.
“Our view is of course that we believe this is a decision for the parent,” said Gov. DeSantis on Wednesday at Lakewood Elementary School in St. Petersburg. “Obviously, if you’re talking about the federal government coming in and overruling parents in our communities, that would be something we would fight back vociferously against.”
On Tuesday, President Joe Biden said governors like DeSantis criticize mandates — then issue their own.
“If a principal says everyone in my school should wear a mask, or the school board votes for it, that governor will nullify that,” Biden said. “That governor has the authority to say you can’t do that. I find that totally counterintuitive and quite frankly disingenuous.”
The governor’s office issued a statement earlier this week threatening to “withhold the salary of the superintendent or school board members” in any school district that mandated students wear masks.
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki then said the Biden Administration was “looking into what’s possible” to pay the salaries of those officials if the governor follows through. The funds would come from unspent federal coronavirus relief money for Florida schools.
DeSantis questioned whether the Biden Administration has the power to take that step.
“I’m not sure they have the wherewithal,” DeSantis said. “They’re also talking about imposing a potential nationwide mask mandate on kindergartners, first graders, who knows, regardless of what the parents believe is in the best interest of their kids.”
Several school districts, including Alachua and Broward counties, have defied the governor by mandating students wear masks.
All school districts in Tampa Bay have an opt-out policy for parents who don’t want their kids to wear masks if their school district requires them.