Biden praises Arizona, Florida school chiefs on mask-wearing

President Joe Biden takes off his mask as he arrives to speak about the coronavirus pandemic in the East Room of the White House in Washington, Tuesday, Aug. 3, 2021. The U.S. has donated and shipped more than 110 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines to more than 60 countries, ranging from Afghanistan to Zambia, the White House announced Tuesday. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

PHOENIX (AP) — President Joe Biden has commended the leadership of two Arizona and Florida school district superintendents after the districts’ boards recently implemented mask requirements in defiance of their Republican governors.

Biden spoke separately by phone Friday with Superintendent Chad Gestson of the Phoenix Union High School District and interim Superintendent Vickie Cartwright of Broward County Public School, the White House said in a statement Saturday.

The statement said the Democratic president and the superintendents discussed “their shared commitment to getting all students back in safe, full-time in-person learning this school year” and that the president “commended their leadership and courage to do the right thing for the health and well-being of their students, teachers, and schools.”

Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey in June signed into law budget legislation enacted by the Republican-led Legislature to prohibit school districts from requiring masks.

In Florida, Gov. Ron DeSantis has issued orders to block school mask mandates, dictating school districts should allow parents to opt out if they don’t want their children to wear masks in classrooms.

Both states’ restrictions face pending court challenges.

Biden’s reported comments drew criticism from a Republican state legislator who said the Democratic president was “promoting lawlessness.”

“President Biden knows how unpopular a national mask mandate is so he’s chosen instead to exploit our children & use school districts to do his dirty work,” Arizona state Sen. Michelle Ugenti-Rita said in a Twitter thread. “It’s truly sad to see the (president) encourage our supposed educational leaders to break the law.”

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