COVID is now shutting districts down in droves as mask disputes rage on

Another governor has waded into the battle over school mask mandates as a Florida superintendent fined by her state said face coverings are beginning to have an impact on COVID-19 transmissions.
By: | September 2, 2021

Whereas schools closed in droves in spring 2020 to prevent students and staff from getting COVID, a wave of districts are now shutting down because of an overwhelming number of infections among children and teens.

And another governor has waded into the battle over school mask mandates as a Florida superintendent fined by her state said face coverings are beginning to have an impact on COVID-19 transmissions.

Though not nearly as aggressive as the mask mandate bans in Florida, Texas and other states, Montana Gov. Greg Gianforte’s administration issued an emergency rule pressuring schools to allow parents to opt-out of any requirements to wear face coverings.

“Montana parents deserve to know their voices are heard in schools when health-related mandates for their children are being considered,” Gianforte said in a statement. “This emergency rule ultimately directs schools to recognize the fundamental rights of parents, and because each child is unique and may face unique challenges, this rule urges schools to empower parents to do what’s best for their children.”

In response, Bozeman Public Schools Interim Superintendent Casey Bertram said the district would not make any changes to its mask mandate. The district allows students to opt out of wearing masks by attending its online schools for K-8 and high school, Bertram said in a statement. “The school district has received hours of public comment from parents and others in the community on this issue, demonstrating its clear desire to take the wishes of parents into account,” he said.

Helena Public Schools has also mandated masks for K-8 students.

On the other side of the country, Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf imposed a mask mandate for all students and staff in schools statewide.

“My office has received an outpouring of messages from parents asking us to protect children by requiring masks in schools,” Wolf tweeted. “I preferred for local school boards to make this decision. But an aggressive nationwide campaign is pressuring school districts to adopt unsafe policies.”

Florida districts shut down

Two days after Gov. Ron DeSantis’ administration fined school board members over mask mandates, Florida saw its first districtwide COVID closures of the 2021-22 school year.

Gulf County Schools in the state’s panhandle is closed until Sept. 7 due to rising COVID cases, Superintendent Jim Norton said on Facebook. “I realize school closures cause an inconvenience to some, and for that I apologize,” Norton said. “However, I truly feel it is necessary in order to build a stop-gap measure that will prevent the virus from spreading more widely.”

Taylor County Schools, near Tallahassee, is also closed until Sept. 7. “We believe this closure will allow us to reset and proactively devise plans for continued learning for our students this year, whether in schools or at home in quarantine,” Superintendent Danny F. Glover, Jr. said on the district’s website.

About a dozen districts in Florida have mandated masks despite DeSantis’ ban, which was ruled unconstitutional by a judge last week.

Masks are beginning to stem transmissions in Broward County Public Schools, which is one of the two districts sanctioned by the state for requiring face coverings, the system’s interim superintendent, Vickie Cartwright, said at a school board meeting Tuesday night.

The salaries of school board members in Alachua and Broward counties were docked by Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran Monday despite a judge’s rejection of Gov. Ron DeSantis’ ban on mask mandates.

Broward County Schools has no intention of dropping its mask mandate, Cartwright said. “The health and safety of our students, teachers and staff continue to be our highest priority, as such we will continue to mandate masks knowing that our data, our quarantine data, is demonstrating that the use of masks is helping to minimize the spread of COVID-19.”

The district believes it is complying with state law, including a requirement to notify the state about students who’ve faced consequences for not wearing masks.

Florida Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran has notified Orange County Public Schools it is now under investigation for its mask mandate, reported.

And in Texas, even though Gov. Greg Abbott’s ban of mask mandates was also overturned by a judge, a wave of districts shut down this week due to COVID transmissions and deaths of staff members.

COVID has shut down multiple districts in East Texas until Sept. 7, including Frankston ISDGladewater ISDGroveton ISDHemphill ISDKennard ISDLeverett’s Chapel ISDNewton ISD and West Sabine ISD.

“I realize this will be an inconvenience for many people, but the data and total number of positive cases indicate that we must take action,” Groveton ISD Superintendent Jim Dillard said.

Wells ISD extended its closure until Sept. 7. “We had truly hoped that 5 days away would clear up any ‘normal’ back-to-school illnesses, but it has not,” Superintendent Jill Gaston said in a message to the community.

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