PALM BEACH COUNTY, Fla. (NewsNation Now) — A Florida second-grader has been suspended from school nearly 40 times after she refused to wear a mask in the classroom. Now her teachers told her parents that she has missed so much class she may flunk out of second grade.
Fiona Lashells, who just turned 8 years old, has been refusing to wear a mask in school for months. As a result, she’s been suspended 38 times. In July, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed an executive order making face masks optional in schools. But in local school districts like Fiona’s in Palm Beach County, mask mandates are still being enforced.
“You wear it for a long time and you breathe in all those germs,” Fiona said to NewsNation. “You set it down at lunch and put it back on your face and breathed that all in all day long.”
Now every time Fiona refuses to wear a mask, she is suspended and sent home with a note explaining why.
“I was really shocked by it,” Fiona’s mom, Bailey Lashell said. “I couldn’t believe it was all over not complying with the mask mandate.”
Fiona’s latest suspension doesn’t end until Monday. But Fiona’s refusal to wear a mask represents a larger issue in Florida: a battle between county school boards pushing mask mandates and a state policy in direct conflict.
“I’m doing it for other kids and not just myself,” said Fiona.
Eight school districts have defied DeSantis’ order that says only parents should decide if their children wear masks, not school district officials. The state has levied fines against Broward and Alachua counties’ school districts equivalent to the annual salaries of the school board members who voted for mask mandates.
Two of Florida’s largest school districts eased their mask requirements this week. In Orange County schools, students can stop wearing face masks if their parents provide a note opting them out. In Broward County, high school students can choose to wear a mask starting Monday, and it’s strongly encouraged, but it will still be mandatory for middle and elementary school students.
“We have no problem with somebody wearing a mask,” Lashell said. “We just feel that the kids in this situation or I guess the parents should have been given that choice.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that all kids over the age of 2 should wear masks indoors.
NewsNation reached out to Fiona’s school district and the district said it plans to lift the mask mandate on Nov. 15.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.