Florida’s Masking Freedom of Choice



The mask wars have begun. With the start of the school year, students are going back to classrooms – and that’s certainly cause for celebration. But many are being forced to wear masks against their will – and their parents.

The CDC guidelines call for masks for all students, despite the lack of scientific evidence to support this decision. (see Masks Harmful to Children) Florida Governor Ron DeSantis has shown his willingness to ignore such guidelines when the science doesn’t support them, preferring to give parents and adults the freedom to make their own informed decisions for themselves and their children. He has barred mask mandates statewide, leaving the decision up to parents, but local government officials are pushing back in some areas. Now a peace plan has emerged in this culture war.

William Mattox, director of the J. Stanley Marshall Center for Educational Options at James Madison Institute, says Governor DeSantis has found a solution that should make everybody happy. The Florida Department of Education issued a rule making students who suffer “Covid-19 harassment” eligible for a Hope Scholarship that allows them to attend another public or private school of their parents’ choosing.

Naturally, parents who oppose mandatory masking of their children praised this new policy. Now they could move their children to another school where the masking policies meet their needs. But something unexpected happened; some Covid-wary parents who support mask requirements requested the same freedom of choice. The Department of Education approved their requests, too.

The happy result is that both sides of this war have the freedom to choose a school for their children that meets their needs. They can choose a school that matches their preference for masking their children. This is government at its best.

The Hope Scholarships were created by the Florida legislature in 2018 to allow parents to transfer a child who feels threatened or harassed to another school. When first passed by the legislature, the concern was for bullying from other students. But the department says the law’s language can be legitimately applied when students are harassed or mistreated over masking issues. Hope Scholarship rules and regulations are seen below:

This is a win for freedom of choice – and for school choice. It has become abundantly clear in recent years that giving parents the freedom to choose the best school for their children is an important step in assuring all children the opportunity for a good education. A good education is the key to upward mobility, especially for those children from low-income families. Florida has been a model for expanding school choice and this is just another example of such forward thinking.

The short history of enrollment in the Hope Scholarship program is seen in the graphic below. You can be sure these numbers will grow in the coming school year with this new ruling by the Department of Education.


Mattox says, “By putting the power to make safety-related schooling decisions in the hands of families, Florida acknowledges that parents know best how to weigh Covid’s risks to their children. A household with an immunocompromised family member may perceive the risks differently than one with mental-health concerns.”

This is unlikely to cause a major shift in the school populations, but it gives families that feel trapped by their local district’s policies a way of escape. Mattox says, “It further enshrines the unimpeachable idea behind Florida’s first-in-the-nation student safety scholarship: No child should be required to attend a school that his parents consider unsafe.”

Just another reason why Floridians feel blessed to live in Florida.


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