Florida’s largest school districts ease up on masks

Running at School – Face Mask: Shutterstock — Monkey Business Images

ORLANDO, Fla. — Two of Florida’s largest school districts are easing up on mask requirements this week.

Beginning Monday, Orange County students will not be required to wear a face mask if their parents provide a note opting them out. High school students in Broward County can choose to wear a face mask, though it remains strongly encouraged. It will not be mandatory for elementary and middle school students.

Orange County Public Schools’ 60-day mask mandate ended on Saturday. Barbara Jenkins, School Superintendent, said it would not be extended in part because of the “significant reduction in the number of COVID-19 cases in Orange County.”

The district’s employees, visitors, and parents are still required to wear face masks in schools, Jenkins said. This mandate will likely remain in place until Dec. 3, though the tentative date could change based on COVID-19 data.

In Broward County, board members said current quarantine policies and mask mandates should stay in place for the lower grade levels until a coronavirus vaccine is widely available for children ages 5 through 11. The vaccine is currently available for children 12 years of age and older.

“I don’t think it’s a very fair situation to put our young ones and their families at risk,” said Nora Rupert, according to the Miami Herald.

Eight Florida school districts have opposed Gov. Ron DeSantis’ order that only parents can decide if their children wear masks, not school district officials. The state has levied fines against Alachua and Broward counties’ school districts equivalent to the annual salaries of the school board members who voted in favor of mask mandates.

In response, $420,957 has been sent from the Biden administration to Broward County Public Schools and $148,000 to Alachua County Public Schools to offset the fines, in an attempt to negate Florida’s sanctions meant to dissipate mask mandates.

The Florida Board of Education in response ramped up pressure on school board members by withholding federal grants and docking their pay from counties that continue to require face coverings for students in defiance of DeSantis and a state Department of Health rule.

Officials with the U.S. Department of Education and Florida Department of Education did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
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