TAMPA (WFLA) – Gov. Ron DeSantis’ executive order suspending local COVID-19 restrictions, doesn’t just impact city and county governments in the future, but also schools.
From now until the end of the school year, nothing changes as Tampa Bay students will still need a mask in the classroom.
But 8 On Your Side Investigator Mahsa Saeidi has learned it could be a different story this fall.
For several days now, 8 On Your Side has been trying to understand if any power is being taken away from our local school districts.
On Wednesday, 8 On Your Side had the chance to ask Gov. Ron DeSantis that question in person as the governor made multiple stops across the state, including to the Temple Terrace Fire Department to thank first responders’ efforts during the pandemic.
The visit came as Gov. DeSantis announced plans to send $1,000 bonuses to first responders across the state.
“I thought it was important to recognize the service, to recognize the sacrifice, and I asked the legislature in this legislative session, we need to do bonuses for law enforcement,” DeSantis said. “Some wanted to defund the police, we’re funding the police, and then some.”
In March, DeSantis said he plans to use $200 million in federal stimulus money to cover the one-time payments.
“These folks, they can’t respond to an emergency on Zoom,” said Gov. DeSantis. “They’ve got to be in uniform and they’ve got to be there.”
This all comes just days after the governor signed two controversial executive orders to end local COVID-19 restrictions and the state legislature approved a finalized budget plan, which included the bonuses.
In the wake of the governor’s executive orders, there was confusion in Tampa Bay area schools as parents were left unsure if their children would still need to wear a mask.
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 what about next school year?
The hope is that COVID-19 will be over in the fall but if it’s not would Gov. DeSantis’ orders prohibit school districts from reacting how they see fit?
“I understand that the executive orders do not impact school districts this school year, but what about in the fall?” asked Saeidi at the first responder news conference.
“So good question,” said Gov. DeSantis. “So the executive orders we did, first of all, I thank the legislature for a really substantive reform of emergency powers and the fact is you can’t just have open-ended powers, I think they’ve created a very responsible structure.”
Gov. DeSantis believes it was dangerous for state, county and city governments to have unlimited power and since COVID-19, he believes restrictions are necessary.
“It applies to any organ of government that’s doing an emergency order,” said Gov. DeSantis. “If it’s not emergency, if it’s like normal policy, then obviously my emergency powers are really focusing on the emergency at hand.”
Executive Order 21-101 would stop school districts from issuing a mask mandate under emergency powers in the future, according to the governor’s staff.
So what will class be like in the fall? Gov. DeSantis says everyone should expect a normal school year.
Meantime, Florida’s Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran has asked school districts to make masks voluntary next year.