Amid the recent surge in COVID-19 Omicron variant cases, two South Florida school boards have decided to reinforce mask mandates for adults while strongly recommending masks for students.

Given that the two counties account for almost 61% of the new cases – reported by the Florida Department of Health (FDOH) for the week of December 17th through the 23rd – Miami-Dade and Broward County school boards have announced plans to enforce an adult-only mask mandate for employees, volunteers, visitors, vendors, and contractors who are indoors at any district school or facility.

Miami-Dade Public Schools (MDCPS) Superintendent Alberto Carvalho announced the change Thursday and said that starting on January 3rd, “All adults entering Miami-Dade County Public Schools facilities shall be wearing masks. … Masks will be mandatory for all adults in Miami-Dade County Public Schools facilities. The same will be true for those individuals who work on school busses.”

Regarding students, in a prepared statement addressing the changes that was posted to Twitter, MDCPS stated, “Facial coverings will not be mandated for students, but they will continue to be highly encouraged as this practice provides an additional layer of protection against COVID-19.”

The Broward County School Board held an emergency meeting on Friday and voted to require all vendors and visitors to wear face coverings while inside any district facility beginning Monday. Masks for students and employees, however, will remain optional.

Broward Teachers Union President Anna Fusco had urged board members to not mandate masks for teachers. Fusco argued that the vast majority of teachers are already wearing masks.

“Mandating is an insult,” Fusco said, adding that mandating masks for adults only would be “saying that we don’t trust them to wear it.”

Both counties’ school boards decided to make mask wearing optional for students due to a new law. After a lengthy legal battle where the two counties defied the mask mandate ban by Governor Ron DeSantis, the Florida House passed a law (HB 1B) in November that puts the decision to mask children solely in the hands of their parents.

Broward School Board Chairwoman, Laurie Rich Levinson commented on the law, stating, “If the Legislature hadn’t passed that law, I certainly think there would be a discussion of a mask mandate for students, with these high positivity rates in excess of 20%.”

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Casey Owens is a contributing writer for The Florida Capital Star. Follow him on Twitter at @cowensreports. Email tips to [email protected].
Photo “School Children in Masks” by Metro Nashville Schools.