By Karli Barnett

MIAMI (CBSMiami) – The start of the school year is just two weeks away in Broward County, which has seen cases and hospitalizations going up.

State Senator Gary Farmer, who represents Eastern Broward County, went to the Broward School Board meeting Tuesday in order to speak on the question of the mask mandate.

READ MORE: Miami Dade College To Host Wake For Congresswoman Carrie Meek

The meeting was regarding the budget, but Sen. Farmer addressed the board during public comment.

“Districts are still free to decide on their own whether they want to require masks or not,” he explains.

Last week, the Broward School Board voted to make masks mandatory in school buildings. However, they reversed that decision and made them optional after Governor Ron DeSantis came out with an executive order, which prevented any mask mandates in schools.

“His executive order is a gross overstep of his legal authority,” Farmer says. “The Florida constitution specifically vests the power and authority of education decisions in the local school boards. That’s what they’re here for.”

Sen. Farmer, who is an attorney, also says that the Governor’s threat to pull school funding from districts that enact mask mandates is not in accordance with state law.

“Florida law says state agencies, when they make a rule, cannot put a penalty on that rule, unless it has been specifically approved by the Florida legislature,” he explains.

READ MORE: Tributes To Congresswoman Carrie Meek

Meanwhile, Florida hit a new high for COVID patients in the hospital.

Based on a survey conducted last week, the Florida hospital association says 96% of those hospitalized with COVID across the state are unvaccinated.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services says there are more than 11,500 COVID patients in Florida hospitals ad of Tuesday. That is up from Sunday’s high of 10,207.

“We follow that very closely. It went up very sharply throughout most of July toward the end of last month,” says Governor Ron DeSantis. “It started to stabilize and basically plateau, so we are looking to see that rollover.”

During a news conference at the Everglades, the Governor acknowledged the rising hospitalizations, but believed it would be leveling off.

When asked about seven children hospitalized at Joe DiMaggio with COVID and thoughts on masks for children, the Governor fired back and did not address the question of masks.

“You’re blaming kids, saying they weren’t wearing masks and they’re in the ICU. With all due respect, I find that deplorable to blame the victim. You don’t know their story. I don’t know what happened with that,” he said.

MORE NEWS: Banksy 'Charlie Brown' Sells For $4 Million, While Child Prodigy Thrills Crowd With His Artwork

The Broward School Board did not discuss the mask issue further and did not say if they would revisit their policy.

Karli Barnett