Florida mask debate split-screen: courtroom vs. classrooms

Florida mask debate split-screen: courtroom vs. classrooms



ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) — The coronavirus is disrupting more classrooms in Florida while lawyers for Gov. Ron DeSantis argue against school mask mandates in a Tallahassee courtroom. Three more school districts announced hearings Tuesday to discuss stricter mask policies to avoid more disruptions as more staff and students are sent home due to COVID-19 infections and exposures.

School boards in Orange, Pinellas and Monroe counties could join at least eight other districts in defying the Republican governor, whose executive order gave parents the power to decide whether a child wears a mask to school. Together the three districts have more than 3,000 students who were abruptly told not to come back to their classrooms after positive tests or exposure.

The three-day hearing that started Monday before Leon County Circuit Judge John C. Cooper pits pro-mask parents against the DeSantis administration and state education officials who contend that parents, not schools, should choose whether their children cover up in classrooms.

The highly contagious delta variant led to an acceleration in cases around Florida and record high hospitalizations just as schools prepared to reopen classrooms this month. By mid-August more than 21,000 new cases were being added per day, compared with about 8,500 a month earlier. The state said 16,820 people were hospitalized on Tuesday, down from a record of more than 17,000 last week.

Dr. Mona Mangat, a St. Petersburg physician who specializes in pediatric immunology, testified Tuesday on behalf of the lawsuit plaintiffs that face coverings remain essential in classrooms because children 12 and under aren't yet eligible to get their shots.

“That leaves us with vaccination where we can and masking everybody,” Mangat said. “Masking of any sort that you can get your hands on is better than no...

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