3:03 PM PDT, August 11, 2021
Students in Broward County will be required to wear masks when returning to school in the fall despite Florida’s state-wide ban on coronavirus-related restrictions, including a mask mandate. This comes as the Broward County School Board voted overwhelmingly in favor of mask requirements, and approved filing legal action to challenge the state’s ban, as instated under Gov. Ron DeSantis.
“It is a necessary precaution until children under 12 can receive a COVID-19 vaccination and more Americans 12 and older get vaccinated,” Broward Teachers Union President Anna Fusco said in a statement. “We continue to be concerned about this variant, but our No. 1 priority remains a safe in-person school year in schools that can stay open. Given the new evidence, that means requiring everyone in school buildings to wear masks.”
Requests from students and staff with medical conditions will be considered, the statement said.
The decision comes just days before the new school year begins on August 18th.
But discussions surrounding whether students at Broward County Public Schools, the second largest district in Florida, will be required to wear masks has gone on for weeks.
They had unanimously voted about two weeks ago to make masks mandatory in school at least until after Labor Day, despite some anti-mask parents protesting with picket signs outside during the vote, CBS Miami reported.
DeSantis responded with an executive order that says “every parent should have the right to choose what is best for their child,” according to a statement.
“The federal government has no right to tell parents that in order for their kids to attend school in person, they must be forced to wear a mask all day, every day,” DeSantis said. “Many Florida schoolchildren have suffered under forced masking policies, and it is prudent to protect the ability of parents to make decisions regarding the wearing of masks by their children.”
Schools that do not comply with DeSantis’ executive order could risk losing state funding, the order stipulates, although officials then clarified it would be superintendents and school board members who would lose their salaries.
Last Friday, Florida’s Board of Education went even further by announcing the Hope Scholarship, a voucher parents can use to pay for private school if their kids are subject to “COVID-19 harassment” in schools, which includes mask and testing requirements, NPR reported.
Even so, board members voted 8 to 1 to approve the mask mandate Tuesday.
“People’s lives are invaluable, even if it means to me that I am not going to receive a paycheck,” School Board Chair Dr. Rosalind Osgood told CBS Miami, adding that he hopes the federal government will intervene if things escalate.
Interim Superintendent Vickie Cartwright added, “Yes, they understand that their salaries, my salary might be taken from us.”
State Senator Gary Farmer also approved of the decision, saying in a statement, “I want to thank the members of the Broward County School Board for taking the brave action that was absolutely necessary to protect our children, teachers, faculty, staff and their families from the very real threat of COVID-19. … By standing up to the bully in the Governor’s Mansion like they did today, the Broward County School Board set a shining example for our kids,”
Meanwhile, school administrators across Florida are taking the same risk, all in a bid to not put their students’ lives in danger.
Leon County’s superintendent of schools, which includes the state’s capital of Tallahassee, announced Monday that masks would be required for pre-kindergarten to eighth grade students.
“Heaven forbid we lost a child to this virus — I can’t just simply blame the governor of the state of Florida,” Superintendent Rocky Hanna said, according to NBC News.
Last week, Alachua County School Board issued a two-week mask mandate.
“Our local medical community and scientists came out in full support of universal masks, and we are so thankful that you listened to the experts,” parents said in a joint statement. “We support your brave decision to require masks and protect our students, faculty, staff, and the broader community.”
In response, however, Florida’s Education Commissioner Richard Cocoran announced Monday that his office will investigate the school system’s “glaring non-compliance,” the Gainesville Sun reported.
Alachua County Public Schools has seen a dramatic spike of COVID-19 cases among its employees in the last few weeks, including two custodians who died of coronavirus-related complications, according to the Gainesville Sun.