TAMPA, Fla — The battle over whether districts can mandate masks for Florida schools amid the COVID-19 pandemic will again head to court on Wednesday.
"I'm really hopeful that the judge will side with us,” said Demaris Allen, a Hillsborough County parent. "The very least we can do is keep our kids safe, because we don't have the opportunity to keep them home this year."
Allen is one of several parents suing the state over its ban on mask mandates, but she says masks are just one of many issues pushing schools to their limits during the pandemic.
"We don't have enough teachers to cover classrooms to begin with…” she said. “We need money to pay bus drivers and to have safe routes to school.”
An updated report from the Florida Education Association says these issues are pushing districts to their breaking point. It also blames the state for holding back funding to support schools and students.
“We know that our governor is holding the billions of dollars and funding that could assist with schools that need that for operation for PPE for air systems we have schools without air conditioning right now,” said Nandi Riley, secretary and treasurer for the Florida Education Association.
Experts point to Florida missing a June deadline for $2.3 billion in federal COVID-relief funding for schools. It is one of only five states to do so. But in an email, FLDOE spokesperson Jared Ochs said the state is waiting for districts to submit plans on how it would spend the money...and "Once we receive responses from the districts, we will have a better idea of their needs."
However, parents say those needs must be addressed now.
"That's our future and if we don't invest in our kids, then what are we doing?" Allen said.
In response to the lawsuit, Gov. Ron DeSantis spokesperson Christina Pushaw said in a statement: "We are confident in the legal basis for protecting parents’ freedom to choose whether their own children wear masks or not."
The mask lawsuit hearing will be streamed here at 10 a.m.