South Florida School Districts Relax Mask Rules

broward interim sup
Broward County Schools Interim Superintendent Dr. Vickie L. Cartwright greets students Wednesday, Aug. 16, 2021 in at North Lauderdale Elementary School. More than 261,000 Broward County Public Schools (BCPS) students headed back to school to begin the 2021/22 school year. (Joe Cavaretta/South Florida Sun-Sentinel via AP)

At least two school districts in South Florida will soon see major changes to their mask mandates for students due to a decline in COVID-19 numbers in the state.

The mask mandates for Miami-Dade and Broward County Public Schools were imposed at the start of the school year, on the recommendation of infectious disease experts and despite a ban on mask mandates in public schools by Florida Governor Ron DeSantis.

The criteria which would allow masks to become optional would be a reduction in COVID-19 infections, which has happened across South Florida. This has triggered the consideration for an opt-out option for mask-wearing in Miami-Dade schools. Superintendent Alberto Carvalho said that this Friday may be the deciding day if certain metrics are met.

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“We’re now in a position, based on the latest metrics, of really anticipating for the very first time, looking perspectively at October 29th as the day when we would meet all the adopted metrics for our school system. That would put us in the position of shifting from a mandatory masking protocol with medical exemptions to a mandatory mask policy but with an unrestricted parent opt-out provision,” he said during a school board meeting on October 20.

The metrics include a decline in hospital admissions, a low community transmission rate and a decline in daily student cases.

Meanwhile, in Broward County, the school board on Tuesday voted 5-3 to keep the district’s mask mandate for elementary and middle school students, while masks will be optional, though highly recommended, for high school students starting next week.

Interim Superintendent Vickie Cartwright had recommended that masks be optional for all students as long as the positivity rate remained below 5%. But a majority of board members reasoned that only high school students, who are all old enough to receive the vaccine, should have the option to go maskless. The vaccine has been approved for children as young as 12, which would exclude most elementary and middle school students.

Broward was one of two Florida school districts, along with Alachua, to have the salaries of board members cut by the state for imposing a mask mandate. President Joe Biden’s administration pledged to cover such sanctions with federal dollars, which the state also threatened to take.

On Monday, the U.S. Department of Education sent a letter to Florida’s Commissioner of Education Richard Corcoran saying the state cannot take any federal funds that were given to the districts.