Broward school district says mask mandate still in place, as it reviews DeSantis’ order

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Just two days after saying it intended to comply with the governor’s order threatening to withhold state funds for any district enacting mask mandates in its schools, Broward County Public Schools said Wednesday its mask mandate will be in place until further notice.

The School Board is expected to discuss next steps during a special meeting on Aug. 10, about a week before classes resume on Aug. 18. The district made the announcement in an updated statement Wednesday.

“In light of the Governor’s Executive Order, the District is awaiting further guidance before rendering a decision on the mask mandate for the upcoming school year,” the district said in its updated statement. “At this time, the District’s face covering policy, which requires the use of masks in District schools and facilities, remains in place.”

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis on Friday signed an executive order against mask mandates in schools, just days after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention updated its guidance to say all students, teachers, staff and visitors, regardless of vaccination status, should wear a mask inside K-12 schools due to the surging number of U.S. COVID cases caused by the highly contagious delta variant. The American Academy of Pediatrics has also issued similar recommendations.

Last Wednesday, a day after the CDC came out with its new recommendations for masks in schools, the nine-member Broward School Board unanimously voted to require masks for all students, teachers, staff and visitors at its schools. On Monday, the Broward school district backtracked on that mandate, after DeSantis’ order threatened to withhold state funds to schools if they enacted a mask mandate.

Alachua County Schools to require masks

That hasn’t stopped some school districts from defying the governor’s order and requiring masks. Alachua County Public Schools, which includes Gainesville, announced late Tuesday that “in light of dramatic increases in local COVID cases and hospitalizations including among children,” it would be requiring students to wear masks at least for the first two weeks of school. Duval County Public Schools, which includes Jacksonville, will also have a mask mandate though students can “opt-out” if their parents fill out the appropriate paperwork, according to the Florida Times-Union.

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Florida COVID-19 cases are increasing again, hitting levels not seen since January, the worst month of the pandemic in terms of new cases. For Tuesday, the state reported 16,935 new cases. COVID-19 hospitalizations around the state broke a record for the third day in a row, with more than 12,000 patients hospitalized for COVID-19, according to federal data published Wednesday.

Miami-Dade Schools mask policy still under review

In South Florida, the Broward school district was the only one to announce a mask requirement for the start of the school year.

Miami-Dade County Public Schools, which was planning to be mask optional for the 2021-2022 school year, says its task force of medical and public health experts will review its mask policy given the recent rise of cases and hospitalizations and concerns over the more contagious delta variant. The first day of school for Miami-Dade Public Schools is Monday, Aug. 23.

United Teachers of Dade, the teachers union for Miami-Dade Schools, on Wednesday tweeted a link to an online petition that was created three months ago asking Miami-Dade Schools to make masks mandatory for the 2021-2022 school year. The petition says parents of students in Miami-Dade Public Schools created it; it has more than 2,400 signatures so far.

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“In light of the release of the Governor’s Executive Order, we certainly hope to be able to craft protocols that ensure full funding of our children’s education, while simultaneously protecting their and their teachers’ health and well-being,” Miami-Dade Schools Superintendent Alberto Carvalho said in an emailed statement to the Herald on Wednesday.

Carvalho said during an interview with Jim DeFede on Miami Herald news partner CBS4’s “Facing South Florida” that the task force could meet as early as this week.

He said about 41% of students between the ages of 12 and 19 are vaccinated based on data that is available through the county health department. (There is no COVID-19 vaccine available yet for kids under 12.)

“My message to Tallahassee legislators is maintain local flexibility that is in agreement with local conditions. Depriving us to make decisions based on conditions that are specific to our area is not a good public policy,” he said.

He also reiterated what public health officials have consistently said throughout the pandemic: Besides the vaccine, masks are the next best form of protection for COVID-19.

“Look, I know it’s inconvenient to wear a mask but better to be inconvenienced by a facial mask than being inconvenienced by a respirator that you may have to put on your face in the hospital, a ventilator,” Carvalho told DeFede. “So, yes, it’s inconvenient, but if the science is behind it, it’s better than the alternative.”

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