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A battle is brewing in Florida over whether students should wear masks when they return to class this fall.
Several Florida school districts are keeping their mask mandates in place for the next school year, despite a Executive Decree by Governor Ron DeSantis who leaves it up to parents to decide whether their children wear face coverings in school.
Public Schools in Broward County, Florida’s second largest district, cited safety as their top priority when announcing the decision to maintain his mask requirement pending further state guidance, as coronavirus cases increase in Florida.
The Sunshine State has seen a wave of new COVID-19 infections in recent weeks. On Saturday, it recorded 21,683 new cases of the coronavirus, its highest single-day total since the start of the pandemic.
But DeSantis, a Republican, said that as vaccines are now prevalent, the decision to hide students should be up to their parents – not the school district.
“I want to empower parents to make the best possible decisions for the well-being of their children”, DeSantis said. He said parents are in the best position to assess “the effect this would have on their children.”
Disagreement over whether children need masks
DeSantis quoted a study, led in part by Brown University researcher Emily Oster, who did not find “a correlation between mask warrants and COVID-19 rates” in schools in Florida, New York and Massachusetts. But other researchers pointed out that the study had one big caveat: The data does not look at whether students contracted COVID inside or outside of school. Oster herself said the datasets were collected before the hyper-transmissible delta variant spread, according to the Associated Press.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended that all students, staff and faculty who are not fully immunized against the coronavirus wear a mask indoors. Children under 12 are still not approved for the vaccine in the United States.
“When it comes to security, we know that adherence to mitigation strategies works,” US Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona said in a recent interview with NPR.
“I know there are people who make decisions that are less based on science and more on their ideology. But at the end of the day, our educators, their job is to make sure our students are doing well,” he added.
The fight in Florida
The decree doesn’t outright ban mask warrants, but it does give parents the final say on whether their child will have to wear a face covering at school. No child would be prohibited from wearing a mask if they wanted to.
“We are finalizing emergency health and education rules this week that do not ban masks in schools but will require parents to have the right to remove their children. School districts will have to allow parents to do so. this choice, “DeSantis press secretary Christina Pushaw said in a statement.
“[I]t should be the free choice of parents. Requiring medical documents to withdraw from the mask’s mandate, for example, would violate the spirit of the OE, “she added.
The executive order says Florida could withhold public funds from “non-compliant school boards” that violate the new requirement.
Duval County announced Thursday that he will demand that any student not wearing a mask indoors to withdraw from district politics. Officials of Alachua County has voted require students to wear face coverings for the first two weeks of school.
âWe congratulate the school boards in Alachua and Duval counties for following the advice of doctors in their community. said the Florida Education Association, the largest teachers’ union in the state. “We believe that each county should be empowered to make decisions about how best to ensure the safety of its students in consultation with local health experts and based on the unique needs and circumstances of their region.”
Orange County Schools will require masks for staff – but not the students – for 30 days.
In a letter In DeSantis, Leon County Schools Superintendent Rocky Hanna said he wanted to impose a temporary mask warrant in pre-K through 8 grades to protect students and staff from the spreading delta variant quickly across the country and into Florida.
âI ask you to allow us the flexibility and autonomy to make decisions for our schools that best match our local data and information in Leon County,â Hanna said.