By Kevin Deutsch
Broward School Board Member Lori Alhadeff, the lone “no” vote on the board’s decision to continue a district-wide student mask mandate, said Wednesday she believes the requirement violates state law.
“I do feel that the Board’s vote in favor of a mask mandate that neglects to include an opt-out does violate the law,” Alhadeff said in an email response to questions.
“Governor DeSantis’ mandate is quite clear and straightforward in its semantics. I made my decision based solely on that language.”
The board on Tuesday voted 8-1 to keep its mask mandate for students in place to begin the school year amid a record-breaking surge in Florida COVID-19 infections and hospitalizations. Broward students can opt out of the requirement if they receive a medical waiver.
The decision followed current CDC guidance recommending “universal indoor masking for all teachers, staff, students, and visitors to K-12 schools, regardless of vaccination status.” But it flew in the face of DeSantis’ “Ensuring Parents’ Freedom to Choose Masks in Schools” executive order, issued July 30, which grants Florida’s Board of Education the power to withhold funding from any district that requires masks for students.
Following DeSantis’ lead, the Florida Department of Health adopted an emergency rule mandating parents be allowed to opt-out of mask requirements implemented by local school districts for any reason.
“I would have voted yes if the language from the Department of Health was included which stated that students may wear masks or facial coverings as a mitigation measure; however, the school must allow for a parent or legal guardian of the student to opt-out the student from wearing a face-covering or mask,” Alhadeff said.
“The mask mandate (with the opt-out option) outlined in the rules does protect students and staff while permitting individuals to make their own decisions as they see fit,” Alhadeff added. “I believe it is important that my constituents are aware of my continued commitment to the safety and security of all students and staff in Broward County.”
In addition to DeSantis’ order and the DOH rule, the Florida Board of Education approved a separate rule last week that broadened a state scholarship program—originally meant for student victims of bullying—to include students who do not want to wear masks in school.
In response to DeSantis’ executive order and the new state rules, the Broward School Board on Tuesday also decided to hire outside counsel and mount a legal challenge.
During the board meeting, Alhadeff said she “took an oath of an office to follow the law” and supported an opt-out option for parents. But her vote still came as a surprise to some.
Alhadeff, who represents Coral Springs, Parkland, Tamarac, and parts of Margate and North Lauderdale, lives in Parkland. A former teacher and mother of three, she became a school safety advocate after her daughter Alyssa was killed in the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting.
Alhadeff was elected in 2018 and announced her re-election campaign this year.
In a separate email response to Alhadeff’s constituents, some of who wrote to her following Tuesday’s vote, the board member offered more details about her rationale.
“As an elected constitutional officer, Mrs. Alhadeff must uphold the law as the state could potentially remove her from office and Governor DeSantis could install an appointee who will follow the administration,” the email response to her constituents states, in part.
DeSantis’ office has also said the BOE could withhold salaries from school board members and district superintendents who impose mask mandates.
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- Kevin Deutsch is an award-winning crime journalist and author. A graduate of Florida International University, Kevin has worked on staff at The Miami Herald, New York Daily News, and The Palm Beach Post.