South Florida Sun Sentinel | By Scott Travis | August 3, 2021
Masks may remain mandatory in schools — just not for students.
The Broward School Board is considering keeping its mask requirements in place for employees, parents and visitors who come on campus, due to the surge in COVID-19 infections. A similar idea could be floated in Palm Beach County.
The Broward school district wanted to include students in that group and voted Wednesday to make masks mandatory for everyone. But Gov. Ron DeSantis struck down that policy as it pertains to students.
He issued an executive order saying parents could decide if they wanted their children to wear masks. School districts that tried to force students to wear masks could lose state funding, the order said.
School Board members say they plan to comply with the order, but they haven’t changed their policy yet.
“I think we could argue that the Board voted for students, staff and volunteers to wear masks. The only change is the Executive Order pertaining to students,” board Chairwoman Rosalind Osgood said in a text. “So everything is still the same as the Board approved except that which we legally cannot enforce.”
Christina Pushaw, press secretary for DeSantis, acknowledges that the order DeSantis signed does not affect mask mandates for non-students.
But she said, “Governor DeSantis’ position on the issue has been clear and consistent: Government mandates do not work to stop COVID-19.”
Pushaw said counties in Florida with mask mandates last year “did not demonstrate significantly better COVID-19 outcomes, in terms of hospitalizations and deaths, than counties that had no mask mandates.”
The adults-only mask mandate has already been implemented by at least one school district in Florida. Duval County schools decided late last week to require masks for non-students for the next 30 days, the Florida Times-Union reported.
Osgood said she’s distressed by the dramatic effect COVID-19 is having in Broward County. Cases and hospitalizations have soared. Last week, hospitals in Broward and Miami-Dade counties admitted the most COVID patients of any county in the U.S., with more than 800 patients each, according to a White House report.
“Florida has become the epicenter for COVID,” Osgood said. “We have to follow the law, but I personally believe that we have to do everything within our being to be our brothers’ and sisters’ keeper by education and equipping the community with the information and tools they need to stay alive,” she said.
“We also have to use whatever policy strategies we can to protect and serve our children and employees,’ Osgood said.
Several other School Board members say they are also open to such a policy.
“It’s really bad out there,” board member Nora Rupert said.
The issue would likely need to be bargained with employee groups. Broward Teachers Union President Anna Fusco said she supports the idea.
“We are going to talk about this. We have requested a meeting and they are scheduling it,” Fusco said in a text.
Palm Beach County School Board Chairman Frank Barbieri said he hasn’t heard Superintendent Michael Burke mention an adults-only mask policy, but Katz said, “We’re hearing that’s something being entertained by the district.”
Katz said the union has no official position, but he’s skeptical about how effective such a mandate would be.
“It would be mandating masks for mostly vaccinated people, the adults in the building, when you’ve got hundreds or thousands of people, the students, who are not vaccinated,” Katz said. “It seems like putting a Band-Aid on a serious injury.”
Katz said it could also be difficult to enforce for parents coming onto campus.
“If they refuse to wear masks, are you going to turn a parent away from a parent-teacher conference?” Katz asked.