Students in Broward County faced a mask-wearing mandate as their school year began on Wednesday, even as their school board faced threats of severe penalties for defying Gov. Ron DeSantis. School officials in Hillsborough and Miami-Dade counties planned to address the public health measure later Wednesday, hoping to reduce infections in classrooms.
In Miami, Florida’s largest school district with 334,000 students, a task force of medical experts recommended that students should be required to wear masks when they return to classrooms next week. Superintendent Alberto Carvalho agreed and the school board was expected to approve the measure on Wednesday.
In Broward, the state’s second-largest district with 261,000 students, two teachers and an assistant teacher died from COVID last week. In Miami, a 13-year-old student and four district employees have died from the virus in recent weeks, Carvalho said.
Mask-wearing has been optional since the school year began last week in Hillsborough, the third-largest district, with more than 206,000 students. Within days, infections forced thousands of students into isolation, having tested positive for COVID-19, or into quarantine, which means they had close contact with a positive case.
By Wednesday morning, the number of COVID-19 cases in Hillsborough County schools stood at 1,695 students, teachers and staff, according to the district’s COVID dashboard. Through Tuesday, some 8,400 students and 307 employees were either in isolation or quarantine.
With so many classrooms being abandoned, the Hillsborough school board called an emergency meeting for Wednesday to address calls for a stricter mask policy, and possibly fewer quarantines for students who appear healthy despite being exposed.
Florida’s Board of Education voted unanimously on Tuesday to consider sanctions that include loss of funds, removal of school board members and a report to the state Legislature, which could take additional action for defying the governor’s order to provide an easy opt-out for parents who don’t want their children wearing masks.
Despite this pressure, the Alachua County School Board, which serves nearly 30,000 students in the Gainesville area, voted Tuesday night to extend its mask mandate for another two months, WJXT reported. Alachua’s mandate requires a doctor’s note, violating the governor’s executive order to let students opt out without requiring any medical recommendations, referrals, or permissions, the station reported.
Last week, President Joe Biden called school district superintendents in Florida and Arizona to praise them for doing “the right thing” in defiance of executive orders from their governors. The Biden administration also promised federal money if DeSantis carries out a threat to withhold some state funds from districts imposing mask mandates.
Big Florida school districts defy governor over mask mandate