[Opinion] DeSantis’s opposition to mask mandates in harmful to students

Briana Martin, Writer

As students across the state of Florida return to the classroom for the 2021-2022 school year, COVID-19 cases continue to surge with over 15,700 cases across the state as of Aug. 29, 2021. With infection rates so high, schools are implementing numerous health protocols to keep students safe. One of the most important protocols being applied is making masks mandatory on campus due to their ability to help prevent people from contracting the disease.

In most instances, social distancing is no longer possible in a classroom setting because of the overpopulation of students that have returned to school. This makes it all the more imperative that students wear masks in the classroom. It only takes one child contracting the COVID-19 virus to lead to the infection of an entire class. 

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, masks reduce the chances of the virus spreading in the classroom by lessening the range that the respiratory droplets can travel. This is why with masks, we have higher chances of avoiding the classroom COVID-19 outbreak scenario. 

Because of this, many school districts across the state of Florida have enacted mask mandates for the school year, including the Broward County Public School District.

These counties have made the right decision because masks are recommended by the CDC and have been proven to be effective in reducing the transmission of the virus. However, there is still much controversy surrounding the efficacy and effects of masks for children in school. 

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis has made many claims, some proven to be false, that spread doubt in parents’ minds about how masks can affect children. In a statement released by the office of Gov. Ron DeSantis in July, he stated that masks are harmful to students. 

“Masking children can negatively impact their learning, speech, emotional social development, and physical health,” the statement read. 

Nonetheless, experts from Johns Hopkins University and the University of Cincinnati state that face coverings do not inhibit a child’s ability to learn and perform well in school.

Soon after his statement, DeSantis issued an executive order that banned school districts in Florida from enacting mask mandates for the school year. Additionally, that executive order threatened the withholding of funding from school districts that went against the order. 

Since both Broward and Alachua county did not offer opt-out forms for face coverings, they are seen as in defiance of the executive order. 

Although DeSantis claims that his executive order is to give parents a choice, the mask mandate ban can only harm students, especially those under the age of 12 who are ineligible to be vaccinated. By putting students at risk, this also endangers their teachers who could potentially contract the virus from an unmasked and unvaccinated student that unknowingly has it. Their family also faces the same risk of the student bringing the virus home to them unintentionally.

Without masks, schools would be in disarray due to the lack of barriers protecting unvaccinated students from passing on the virus and no way to effectively trace cases back to specific students. 

Although wearing face coverings may make you feel stuffy at times, they are reminders that there is a pandemic still occurring, and that in some states, intensive care units are overflowing with COVID-19 patients struggling to survive because they are infected with the highly contagious delta variant. 

Put frankly, it is simply irresponsible to not wear a mask to school for a few hours a day just because they are uncomfortable some of the time. As a leader, DeSantis should not spread doubt but instead encourage the people of Florida to continue using masks as a preventative measure to protect friends and loved ones.