Once defiant Florida districts join growing wave of schools easing up on masks

Administrators strongly encouraged mask-wearing and warn mandates could return if COVID cases start climbing again
By: | October 27, 2021

Leaders of big Florida districts who have been at the forefront of battling state leaders over masks are now beginning to loosen their mandates.

High school students in Broward County can now skip masks without having to submit any formal opt-out requests. Mandates remain in place for elementary and middle schools.

“We have seen a huge increase in the number of individuals in Broward County that are vaccinated, both adults and students,” school board Chair Rosalind Osgood said in a press conference streamed on social media. “We are very encouraged with the recent news that we could soon have a vaccination that is available to those that are 11 and under.”

High school students will be strongly encouraged to continue wearing masks, Interim Superintendent Vicki Cartwright added.

Even as administrators are beginning to loosen their requirements, the U.S. Department of Education continues to warn Gov. Ron DeSantis’ administration against fining districts over mandates that violate a state ban.

The Biden Administration distributed Project SAFE grants to the districts to cover any funds withheld by the state from Alachua and Broward counties. And efforts by the state to dock these funds violates federal policy, deputy assistant education secretary Ian Rosenblum wrote to Florida education commissioner Richard Corcoran on Monday.

“We hope that you reconsider your threatened actions against these districts in response to the Project SAFE awards, so that they may continue to take steps to help ensure safe and healthy environments for their students, families, and educators,” Rosenblum wrote.

In the Miami-Dade County Public School District, Superintendent Alberto Carvalho has said in recent days that he might ease mask rules by the end of the month, CBS Miami reported.

Elsewhere in Florida, Alachua, Brevard and Leon county schools now allow parents to opt-out of their mask mandates. Masks will become optional in Seminole County Public Schools as of Nov. 1.

Massachusetts, on the other hand, has extended its statewide school mask mandate until Jan. 15, 2022. Middle and high schools in the state can apply for an exemption if 80% of students and staff are vaccinated.

Across the country, districts in once hard-hit areas in the South and Midwest are going mask-optional as COVID rates fall.

In Georgia, Fulton County Schools made masks optional in dozens of its schools as of Oct. 27 due to a drop in COVID infections.

In Ohio, the Canton Local, Jackson, Louisville, Minerva, Plain, Perry and Sandy Valley school districts lifted mask mandates on Oct. 27, CantonRep.com reported. Multiple districts in northwest Ohio are also dropping mask mandates, WTOL.com reported.

Huber Heights City Schools, Mount Vernon City Schools, the Jonathan Alder Local School District, the Clark-Shawnee Local School District, the Minford Local School District and Northwestern Local Schools ease their requirements earlier this month.

In most of the districts, however, administrators strongly encouraged mask-wearing and said mandates could return if COVID cases begin climbing again.

“Please keep in mind, that even though this is a change in protocols the best way to combat COVID-19 in our community is by physical distance, proper mask-wearing, and getting vaccinated,” Plain Local Schools Superintendent Brent  May wrote in a message to families. “Please continue to be diligent with your family’s health so we can stay in school.”

An outlier, The Charleston County School District in South Carolina has extended its mask mandate until Nov. 12 in continued efforts to limit the spread of COVID.