JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Lila Hartley made national headlines last week when she wrote a letter to the Duval County School Board urging members to consider a mask requirement when the new school year begins.
Hartley, 12, said at least one school board member heard her call and last week the board navigated a way around Gov. Ron DeSantis’ executive order banning mask mandates by allowing parents to opt out of a mask requirement. Now the Florida Department of Education tells other school districts they can do the same without jeopardizing their state funding, something Gov. Ron DeSantis threatened to districts that violated his emergency order banning mask mandates.
Hartley’s actions also grabbed the attention of Florida Agriculture Commissioner. Fried and Hartley held a media conference Monday morning to talk about masks in schools.
“I wrote this letter, because of my brother,” Hartley said. “He is 10 years old and is not eligible to get the vaccine and I just don’t want him or any other kids that can’t get vaccinated to get sick at school.”
Hartley said she plans to wear a mask when she starts her seventh-grade year on Tuesday even though she is vaccinated.
“I choose to wear a mask because even though I’m vaccinated, I can still get sick, and everyone hates being sick. That is not a good feeling,” she said. “Also, my younger brother Will, I don’t want to get him sick if I get it because I wasn’t wearing a mask, and keep my other friends and people from getting sick.”
Fried, a Democratic candidate for governor, has been critical of DeSantis’ order on masks and schools and said the decision should be up to local school districts.
“This has got to be local control, local school boards, local county and city commission’s because they know what’s right for their own communities,” Fried said. “But of course we also need to listen to the science and what the CDC is recommending.”
The CDC recommends universal indoor masking for all teachers, staff, students, and visitors to K-12 schools, regardless of vaccination status.
DeSantis, who has said masks can be harmful for children -- one of his advisors equating it with child abuse and the state Board of Education ruling Friday that being forced to wear a mask can be considered harassment -- said the decision to mask or not needs to be one made by parents.