TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and Department of Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran visited Lakewood Elementary in St. Petersburg Wednesday morning to continue a tour of handing out bonus checks to teachers and first responders across Florida.
The CDC recommends all teachers, staff, students, and visitors to K-12 schools wear masks indoors, regardless of vaccination status. But Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis doesn’t want mask mandates in public schools. The governor signed an executive order giving the Department of Education the power to withhold funding from school districts that don’t comply.
DeSantis continued underscoring the importance of in-person schooling, especially for younger students, and calling it a low-risk environment as it relates to COVID-19 while praising Florida’s educators for working through the pandemic to educate the state’s children.
“Our view was we had seen through observed experience and data, other parts of the world, even other parts of the United States that in-person learning was, of course, vital to our kids’ wellbeing,” DeSantis said. “But was also a low-risk environment, as it relates to COVID. So we felt that every parent needed to be able to send their kids to school in person, that that was something that was important. We of course provided parents with the ability if they preferred to do remote, that that would be their choice.”
The governor reiterated earlier points from his news conferences in Surfside and Jacksonville on July 10, talking about the proportion of pediatric cases to adult cases of COVID, as well as the current wave of respiratory synctial virus, which the governor said was more of a risk than COVID-19, though the number of cases was starting to trend downward.
Overall, DeSantis stood by his belief that masking should be a decision of parents, not governments and promised to fight for Florida, should the federal government attempt a nationwide mask mandate for schools.
At the news conference, Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran praised DeSantis for keeping his promises and delivering the bonuses to teachers and first responders.
“As with all promises that this governor makes, he keeps them,” Corcoran said. “And that’s, in a modern day political era, that’s a shocking thing to have that honor and commitment.”
The commissioner and the governor also praised Lakewood for improving its student educational test scores, including kindergarten readiness. Shortly after Corcoran spoke, the governor began handing out bonus checks to the teachers and principal gathered at Lakewood Elementary.
The White House said Tuesday that it is planning to support schools who defy the governor’s order and enact mask mandates for students, as the state’s educators and lawmakers remain divided on masks in schools.