Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis appears to be losing his war against mask mandates, and that’s a good thing, considering that Florida is among the nation’s COVID hot spots and needs a strategy to slow the spread of the virus instead of promoting the spread. The situation has become so grim that some superintendents are risking their jobs by defying DeSantis and implementing their own mandates.
If DeSantis won’t listen to desperate school administrators trying to protect the health of students and staff, we don’t blame them for defying DeSantis.
The Florida governor’s response has been to threaten withholding pay for the disobedient superintendents. What an interesting twist. DeSantis would never defund Florida’s police, but he’s apparently willing to defund educators who’ve been working hard to protect their students and teachers. What’s the next step? Maybe DeSantis could tear down schools and replace them with police stations.
Governors in a handful of other Southern states — Texas, Mississippi and Arizona — also are trying to keep masks off students’ faces. Like DeSantis, they claim it’s their states’ right to operate schools as they see fit. That’s the same brand of logic that was employed in the 1950s school desegregation battle.
Southern states fought the federal government’s efforts to promote equality in education for all American students. The Southern leaders waged the war under the claim it was states’ rights that motivated them.
History portrays the struggle in more black and white terms. When Americans think about desegregation we think about newsreel footage of Alabama Gov. George Wallace standing in the gate of the University of Alabama attempting to turn away Black students.
Before they attempt to enforce their orders banning mask mandates, we suggest DeSantis and the others like him to review the history of desegregation. It most definitely was an effort fueled by racism to prevent minority students from receiving the same quality or education as was afforded the majority white students.
The U.S. Constitution gives states authority to create their own educational and health policies. However, the Constitution empowers the federal government to enforce civil rights laws. That’s why the U.S. Department of Education will investigate whether statewide mask bans deny civil rights.
It’s unconstitutional for students with disabilities to be denied an education that’s of less quality because they cannot safely enter school. Requiring masks is not an unreasonable accommodation.
School integration of the past became an arena in which Americans could decide that civil rights means equal educational opportunities for all.
The new arena: Policies that forbid mask mandates in schools. How will history judge DeSantis in the future?