Two of Florida’s largest school districts are easing their face mask protocols because officials say they’re seeing improved Covid-19 conditions, weeks after tensions peaked between local and state officials regarding the policy.
Miami-Dade County Public Schools and the Broward County School Board announced Tuesday their decisions to remove requirements for K-8 students and staff to wear face coverings, while still strongly encouraging their use.
The changes in Miami-Dade, which will go into effect Friday, come after the superintendent announced last week the same relaxed policy for senior high schools and middle schools. Last month, a similar change made face masks optional but encouraged at Broward high schools and technical colleges.
The two districts were among eight that stuck to their mask mandates, despite GOP Gov. Ron DeSantis threatening to cut school funding. The governor issued an executive order allowing parents to decide whether their children should wear masks in schools, but some school boards decided to defy the order.
In response, the Florida Board of Education voted last month to sanction the eight districts. Florida Board of Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran requested funds for each district be withheld “in an amount equal to 1/12 of all school board members’ salaries,” in addition to withholding any amount equal to federal grant funds awarded to those districts by President Joe Biden’s administration.
In Miami-Dade County, the Covid-19 positivity rate dropped to 2%, below the threshold set for K-8 students to opt out of the mandate, Superintendent Alberto Carvalho said during a news conference. In the school district, 63% of eligible children have been fully vaccinated against Covid-19, and 83% have received at least one dose, he added.
“We consulted once again with our medical experts having obtained overwhelming consensus about today’s announcement,” Carvalho said.
In a statement, the district noted, “While local conditions have improved and the school district is revising its COVID-19 protocols, the CDC continues to recommend universal masking in schools, regardless of vaccination status.”
Meanwhile, in Broward County, the school board voted Tuesday evening to strongly encourage face masks in schools, making them optional starting November 20.
Broward County Public Schools will begin offering vaccinations to students with parental permission at some of its elementary schools starting Wednesday, according to Interim Superintendent Dr. Vickie L. Cartwright.
Broward County Public Schools is the nation’s sixth-largest school district, with more than 270,000 students and about 30,000 employees, according to its website. And Miami-Dade Public Schools’ website shows it is the fourth-largest school district in the country with more than 334,000 students and about 41,000 employees.