Citing data that shows a steady decline in statewide COVID-19 transmission, the final three school districts to mandate masks for students have ditched their policies.
Alachua, Miami-Dade, and Broward counties were the final three districts to retract such policies, meaning that all eight counties that received initial financial penalties by the state are now in compliance.
“We have lowered COVID-19 numbers. We all know that could change. But we are in a better position than we’ve been in quite a while,” said
Alachua County School District board member Robert Hyatt.
All three districts will put in place an opt-out system that requires a parent signature to permit students to be maskless on school grounds.
Broward County School District’s opt-out will begin on Nov. 20th as a compromise after the lone ‘no’ vote, District 3 representative Sarah Leonardi, sought to wait until after winter break.
Miami-Dade and Alachua’s mask opt-out will go into effect Friday, Nov. 12th.
Miami-Dade School District Superintendent Alberto Carvalho said the district would concentrate on the mitigation of lost instruction time and learning losses throughout the pandemic.
“We are focusing our attention 100% on student achievement, student attendance, and providing students with the opportunities they need to accelerate their learning towards their full potential,” said Carvalho. “This is the crisis across America right now, and now that there are no political distractions associated, it is time for our parents, our community, our community leaders, our teachers, our students, our support staff to rally around children and their academic achievement.”
Administrative Law Judge Brian Newman last week upheld a state ruling that prohibited mask and vaccine mandates in schools, writing that the health department struck the “right balance” and that attorneys for the school boards failed to prove that allowing parents to opt-out of mask requirements facilitated the spread of COVID-19 in schools.
The Miami-Dade, Broward, Alachua, Duval, and Leon school boards appealed Newman’s ruling, though Leon County withdrew from the case on Tuesday.
“Our situation now is, we basically have no way forward in the courts. And I think it’s at that point time to put this aside,” said Hyatt.
Board members across all three districts adduced the recent U.S. Food and Drug Administration recent greenlighting of COVID-19 vaccines for children aged 5 to 11 as the reasoning behind their decision, noting that the upcoming holiday breaks will allow ample time for children to get vaccinated.
“That takes us through the end of the school year and it gives the space for parents that are wanting to get their children vaccinated to do that and develop immunity,” said Alachua County School District board member Tina Certain.
As with Leon County School District, the trio of school boards will receive all of the funding withheld by the state for its dissent, including school board members’ salaries.