In a May 27 tweet, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis pointed to a new study supporting his call to lift mask mandates in schools. The study, which was led by Brown University researchers, found no correlation between mask wearing in schools and lower transmission of the Wuhan coronavirus (COVID-19).

The researchers arrived at this finding after analyzing data on student density, ventilation upgrades and masking in Florida, New York and Massachusetts. They examined whether measures to curb virus transmission are correlated with COVID-19 case rates in school staff and students. They detailed their findings in a paper, which was posted May 21 on the pre-print website medRxiv.

The researchers found that student infection rates are higher in schools and school districts with lower in-person student density. Conversely, ventilation upgrades are associated with lower infection rates in Florida but not in New York. Meanwhile, mask mandates are not correlated with either student or staff infection rates, the researchers found. 

Florida officials, parents urge school districts to lift mask mandates

DeSantis urges school boards to life mask mandates, saying that children shouldn’t wear face masks in schools.

“These kids do not need to be wearing these masks, OK? I’m sorry, they don’t,” he said during a news conference in Jacksonville on May 11. “We need to be able to let them be kids and let them act normally.”

Early this month, the governor signed an executive order suspending mask mandates and other restrictions imposed in the state due to the COVID-19 pandemic. But the order did not cover school districts’ policies for the remainder of the 2020-2021 school year. Several school districts, including those in Palm Beach, Martin, St. Lucie, Indian River and Okeechobee Counties, still mandate students and staff members to wear a face covering inside school buildings.

DeSantis promised to have all mask requirements in Florida schools removed starting fall, in time for the 2021-2022 academic year.

“What’s our direction to the school districts and the other schools? Our direction is relatively simple. Have a normal school year,” DeSantis said. “That’s what we want, and that’s what will happen.”

The Florida Department of Education also tweeted about the study amid calls from Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran to end mask mandates. He sent a letter last month to school district superintendents throughout the state, urging them to make mask wearing optional.

“We ask that districts, which currently are implementing a mandated face covering policy, revise their policy to be voluntary for the 2021-2022 school year,” Corcoran wrote.

He noted that mask mandates in schools do not impact the spread of the virus, as health data showed, but might actually be doing more harm than good. He said that face masks inhibit peer-to-peer learning and might also impede instruction for English language learners and students with disabilities. These students benefit from seeing a teacher’s face and mouth, he noted.

“Face coverings are a personal decision and certainly families and individuals should maintain their ability to make a decision that is unique to their circumstances,” the education commissioner said. “Broad sweeping mandatory face covering policies serve no remaining good at this point in our schools.”

Parents echoed Corcoran’s calls, noting that families should have the freedom to choose whether or not to wear a mask.

“You want to wear you mask, wear your mask,” Julie Damsker, the organizer of a local advocacy group called “Unmask Palm Beach County Kids,” said during a rally early this month. “But my kids are not doing well with one, and it’s my choice. It’s my child.”

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