By Kevin Deutsch
Broward County Public Schools has backtracked on its policy requiring masks for kids this coming academic year after Gov. Ron DeSantis issued an executive order barring student mask mandates.
“Broward County Public Schools intends to comply with the Governor’s latest Executive Order,’’ the district said in a statement Tuesday.
Last Wednesday, the school board voted unanimously to continue its mandatory mask policy to begin the school year, as Florida’s COVID-19 infections and hospitalizations reach record-breaking levels.
Officials at the time said face coverings would be mandatory for students, staff, and visitors at all schools and district facilities, but no masks would be required when outdoors. The policy followed current CDC guidance recommending “universal indoor masking for all teachers, staff, students, and visitors to K-12 schools, regardless of vaccination status.”
DeSantis’ move upended the district’s plans. His “Ensuring Parents’ Freedom to Choose Masks in Schools” executive order, issued Friday, grants Florida’s Board of Education the power to withhold funding from any district that requires masks for students.
Florida’s Constitution gives local school districts the authority to “operate, control and supervise” their facilities, making no mention of the governor’s authority in that realm. Broward schools did not respond to an inquiry about whether it was considering a legal challenge to DeSantis’ order.
The school board has not taken a vote officially reversing its mask mandate.
“Safety remains our highest priority,” the district said in its statement. “The District will advocate for all eligible students and staff to receive vaccines and strongly encourage masks to be worn by everyone in schools. The District will also work to adhere to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines, including frequent cleaning and disinfecting of our schools, physical distancing, hand washing, and staying home when sick.”
The first day of school is Wednesday, August 18, with face-to-face learning on all campuses.
Data show that Broward and Miami-Dade Counties currently lead the U.S. in new COVID-19 hospitalizations, with more than 95 percent of hospitalized patients unvaccinated.
According to federal health data, Florida reported 21,683 new cases of COVID-19 Friday, the highest daily total ever recorded amid the pandemic. More than 400 COVID deaths were reported across the state last week.
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