Why 4 districts, so far, are ready to defy Florida’s mask mandate ban
Several Florida education leaders are defying Gov. Ron DeSantis to implement mask mandates as delta surges and the first day of school approaches.
Broward County Public Schools leaders are sticking by their mask mandate after briefly suspending it due to DeSantis’ threat earlier this week to withhold funding from districts that required face coverings.
Gov. Ron DeSantis said requiring students to wear masks “may lead to negative health and societal ramifications” in an executive order that prohibits school COVID safety protocols from violating Floridians’ constitutional freedoms or parents’ right to make health-care decisions for their children.
The district is still reviewing DeSantis’ mask mandate ban with “variants of coronavirus running rampant in our community,” School Board Chair Rosalind Osgood said in a video posted to Broward County schools’ website. “We must continue to use the tools we have, masks, face shields, washing hands and social distance, to keep us all safe and to keep us all alive,” Osgood said.
In Leon County Schools, which covers the state capital of Tallahassee, Superintendent Rocky Hanna urged DeSantis to allow a temporary mask mandate for K-8 students. In the last 10 days, four school-aged children in Leon County have been admitted to the hospital and two pre-K teachers are in intensive care, Hanna said in a letter to the governor.
The COVID positivity rate in Leon County is 14%, which is three times higher than it was in August 2020.
“According to local health officials, cases of positive, symptomatic minors are skyrocketing,” Hanna said. “School-wide mask-wearing is a proven, mitigating strategy to reduce the spread of COVID-19.”
Alachua County Public Schools Superintendent Carlee Simon said that, up until a few weeks ago, administrators there are expecting a “normal” start to the school year. But there’s also been a “huge increase” in the number of previously healthy children admitted to the hospital with COVID, Simon said in a message to the community.
In light of dramatic increases in local COVID cases and hospitalizations, including among children, the School Board has voted to require masks for students for the first two weeks of school. The Board will reevaluate at its August 17 meeting.
— Alachua Schools (@AlachuaSchools) August 4, 2021
And over the weekend, two district employees died of COVID and more than 80 are in quarantine.
“We want our schools to be open because we know that’s best for children. But if this trend continues, we may not have enough people to operate our schools safely,” Simon said. “For these reasons, the school board has decided to require masks for students for the first two weeks of the school year.”
Families can opt out of the mask mandate with a doctor’s note.
And in Duval County Public Schools, Superintendent Diana L. Greene had intended to require masks for everyone in her district but, to accommodate DeSantis’ executive order, limited the mandate to staff only for the first 30 days of school, News4Jax.com reported.
“While I cannot require the wearing of masks, we will continue to strongly encourage students to wear facial coverings when indoors,” Greene wrote in an email obtained by News4Jax.com. “We will also do all that we can to support students and families with access to vaccines until the rate of COVID-19 transmission in our community is at a safe level.”
More statewide mandates
Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker issued a statewide mask mandate for K-12 schools late Wednesday, noting a number of districts had not yet adopted the CDC’s most recent guidelines.
Illinois is home to 1.8 million unvaccinated children under 12, while overall COVID cases are 10 times higher than they were earlier this summer, Pritzker said.
“Given our current trajectory in hospitalizations and ICU usage, we have a limited amount of time right now to stave off the highest peaks of this surge going into the fall,” Pritzker said in a statement.
Last week, Nevada’s governor implemented universal mask mandates for the state’s two largest districts—Clark and Washoe counties.
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