4 more big Florida districts and 1 in Texas flout governors’ mask restrictions

One Louisville-area school district reinstituted a mask mandate after 70 students test positive
By: | August 9, 2021
(Adobe Stock)

Record-breaking COVID cases have driven several more Florida school leaders to join other districts in defying Gov. Ron DeSantis’ mask restrictions.

Over the weekend, Superintendent Michael J. Burke required all School District of Palm Beach County students and staff will have to wear masks when school starts Tuesday.

“Parents and guardians, I have heard your passionate pleas on both sides of this debate during school board meetings,” Burke said in a message to the community posted to the district’s website. “I have also read your messages via email. I have considered all of your input; however, I must make decisions that safeguard the health and wellbeing of our students and staff.”

Parents can opt out by sending a signed note to their child’s first-period teacher.

Superintendent Barbara Jenkins also announced a mask mandate for Orange County Public Schools, which includes Orlando.

“Out of an abundance of caution for the safety of our students and employees, and after consultation with our health experts and school board members, I am implementing required face masks for all students unless the parent chooses to opt out of the requirement,” Jenkins tweeted.

On the state’s west coast, Hillsborough County Public Schools—which covers Tampa— and The School District of Lee County also announced that face coverings will be required as their 2021-22 academic years begin.

However, in Hillsborough County schools, parents and guardians can fill out a form—but do not have to give a reason—to opt-out of the district’s mask mandate, which will be in place until at least Sept. 3. District leaders will be consulting with local health care officials to determine whether to keep the mask mandate in place if COVID rates continue to rise.

More from DA: Why Florida wants to give transfer vouchers to students bullied over masks

Lee County schools is also allowing parents to opt-out of the mandate, which will be in place until at least Sept. 10, WINK News reported.

“We have also heard the concerns raised by parents and stakeholders, both those who support and oppose a mask requirement. We believe that requiring masks with an opt-out ensures that we are doing all we can to keep our students and employees safe, while supporting our community’s efforts to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 and respecting the fundamental rights of parents to direct the health care of their children,” the district said in a press release.

The school boards in Manatee and Pinellas counties were planning to hold special meetings Monday to consider mask mandates, ABC Action News reported.

Last week, school district leaders in Alachua, Broward and Duval counties announced universal mask mandates.

Texas districts take on state

Dallas ISD now appears the first big district in Texas to defy the state’s governor’s band on mask mandates, as local health officials said county hospitalizations are rising at the fastest rate since the pandemic began. Gov. Greg Abbot issued an executive order on May 19 banning school mask mandates by executive orderThe Texas Tribune reported.

On Monday, Dallas ISD issued a temporary mask mandate, declaring “Governor Abbott’s order does not limit the district’s rights as an employer and educational institution to establish reasonable and necessary safety rules for its staff and students. Dallas ISD remains committed to the safety of our students and staff.”

Austin ISD’s and Houston ISD’s school boards are also set to consider mask mandates this week.

Masks mandates multiplying

Beyond Florida, a number of states—including California, Illinois and Oregon—have instituted statewide mask mandates in K-12 schools. But Pennsylvania Gov Tom Wolf said Friday his state would not follow suit, despite the mandate in neighboring New JerseyThe Philadelphia Inquirer reported.

“I think the school districts in Pennsylvania have to decide what they want to do,” Wolf said at a press conference, according to The Inquirer. “I think the CDC guidelines strongly recommend that schools do that. They’re not mandating it and neither am I.”

Among the large districts around the country that have reinstated a universal mask mandate is Anne Arundel County Public Schools in Maryland.

“The pandemic is not entirely behind us, but I want to be emphatically clear about our approach to the coming school year: Except for the students enrolled in our Virtual Academy, we will deliver instruction face-to-face five days per week in classrooms this year. We have absolutely no plans to engage in hybrid instruction,” Superintendent George Arlotto said in a message to the district.

And at least one school district—Greater Clark County Schools in Indiana—has mandated masks after an outbreak in its classrooms. Within the first eight days of school, 70 students have tested positive for COVID, Superintendent Mark Laughner said on the district’s website.

“We believe these steps will not only help reduce the spread, but it will also help reduce the number of students needing to quarantine,” said Laughner, whose district is just north of Louisville, Kentucky. “We are striving to keep in-person school open to all of our students. That means we will have to make modifications along the way.”