A Florida school district has finally dropped its student mask mandate, following the very public journey of an 8-year-old girl who was suspended a stunning 38 times for refusing to comply with the order.
Notably, the mandate defied Republican Governor Ron DeSantis’ executive order giving Florida parents ultimate control over their kids’ masking habits, not administrators.
“Based on a new development at the State level, the School District will be moving to an opt-out status for facial coverings for students in all grade levels beginning this Monday, November 8, rather than on November 15 as you were originally informed,” the Palm Beach County school district told parents on November 6. “A ruling yesterday by Division of Administrative Hearings Judge Newman found the Department of Health’s Emergency Rule 64DER21-15 to be valid, therefore, a parent face covering opt-out will be reinstated effective Monday.”
Before the ruling, second-grader Fiona Lashells became the public face of the mask war, and more generally, parental rights. The child even made an appearance alongside Gov. DeSantis on “Fox & Friends” earlier this month.
“I’m not wearing a mask because you touch it, and you have germs on your hand,” she said on-air. “And then you put it on your face and breathe in all the germs.”
The girl’s mother, Bailey Lashells, said her daughter complained about masking when she was forced to wear one last year, saying the mask was making her tired, a report from The Palm Beach Post outlined. After the mandate was repealed, Lashells told Fiona she never had to wear a mask again. So when the district re-upped the requirement, Lashells said she would not be made a liar and told Fiona she did not have to wear a mask at school.
“We promised her she wouldn’t have to wear a mask,” the mother said. “I think that’s what upset her so much. We had made that promise to her at the beginning of the year.”
When Fiona first went to school maskless, she was forced to eat lunch alone in a hallway outside an administrator’s office, the report detailed. She was then hit with in-school suspensions, and finally out-of-school suspensions. The child nearly missed two months of school and was forced to do schoolwork alone, without teachers and fellow students.
“I didn’t get to see my friends, that’s the sad part,” she told The Palm Beach Post. “But I did most of my work.”
Finally, Fiona has been able to reunite with her classmates, and was reportedly met with “the fanfare of a homecoming war veteran” the day of her return, The Palm Beach Post reported. “Family friends waved signs and cheered. A state legislator strode proudly alongside.”
“She’s been just so adamant that she wants to make sure everyone can go back to school and have a choice,” Lashells said of her daughter. “I just love the people thinking I’m the one doing it.”