Miami Herald | by Michelle Marchante, Colleen Wright and Gwen Filosa | May 4, 2021
Gov. Ron DeSantis’ suspension of emergency COVID-19 orders in Florida will not affect the mask policies at South Florida schools for the remainder of the school year, according to the school districts. The plans for summer and fall are not as clear.
Here’s what we know:
DO KIDS, STAFF STILL NEED TO WEAR A MASK AT SOUTH FLORIDA SCHOOLS?
Masks are still required for the remainder of the 2020-2021 school year until further notice at Miami-Dade County Public Schools, Broward County Public Schools, Monroe County School District and the School District of Palm Beach County.
The Florida Department of Education confirmed that the governor’s order, which he signed Monday and which invalidates all remaining local emergency COVID orders, would not impact “any school district’s policies for the remainder of the 2020-21 school year,” according to Miami-Dade Schools.
“As such, all health protocols currently in place at M-DCPS will remain in effect for the remainder of the school year,” the school district said.
The Miami-Dade school district requires social distancing of at least 3 feet, 3 inches of space between students and 6 feet between adults. Several schools use nontraditional space, like cafeterias and auditoriums, to allow for social distancing. Masks are mandatory for all. The school district recently shortened quarantines from two weeks to 10 days and eliminated quarantines for vaccinated individuals.
Broward Schools, the Monroe County School District, and Palm Beach County Schools also said the governor’s order will not affect their mask policy.
The Monroe County School District on Tuesday said its policy requiring masks at all district buildings and during all activities will remain in place at least until end of the 2020-2021 school year.
Last month, Florida Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran asked school superintendents to amend their policies to make masks optional in schools for the upcoming 2021-22 school year. His letter stated reasons to not require masks but did not back up his claims with any data or scientific evidence.
WILL MASKS BE REQUIRED FOR SUMMER SCHOOL IN MIAMI-DADE, BROWARD AND MONROE? WHAT ABOUT IN THE FALL?
Miami-Dade Superintendent Alberto Carvalho told the Miami Herald Editorial Board last week, “Obviously I’m not ready yet to let go of mandatory masking in Miami-Dade County Public Schools.”
He said the district’s ramped-up summer school experience called Summer 305 will follow the same rigid COVID-19 protocols that were followed this school year. He said the district plans to meet with its medical expert advisory committee at least twice over the summer.
As for the 2021-22 school year, Carvalho said he expects schools will continue to have social distancing requirements.
“We will make decisions regarding masking based on conditions as they evolve throughout the summer, but at this point it’s still a mandatory requirement,” he said.
Miami-Dade Schools spokeswoman Daisy Gonzalez-Diego confirmed Tuesday that no changes or announcements have been made to summer school protocols following DeSantis’ orders.
Broward Schools said it will continue to work with local and federal health experts to make decisions regarding its current and future school safety protocols. It did not clarify if masks would still be required during summer school. The Monroe County School District said it hadn’t made a decision yet on whether masks would be required during summer school.
VACCINES NOT REQUIRED IN SCHOOLS
Broward County Public Schools began vaccinating students 16 years and older, plus their families and school employees, at several high schools on Tuesday.
Gonzalez-Diego, the Miami-Dade schools spokeswoman, said the district has been working with Miami-Dade County to facilitate COVID-19 vaccines for anyone age 16 and older at several schools throughout the county. She said the plan is to begin vaccinations later this week or shortly thereafter.
In an interview with the Miami Herald Editorial Board, Carvalho said he consulted with labor attorneys and determined that schools can ask employees if they are vaccinated on an individual basis. He said the district did not have the legal protection to demand proof of vaccination or not.
“Even though we don’t have the legal grounds to mandate somebody to work during quarantine time,” he said, “it is a question that school leaders at individuals sites can ask and we are asking it.”
Image: Students wearing masks cross in front of a school bus at Carrie P. Meek/Westview K-8 on Monday, the first day back of in-person learning for pre-k, kindergarten and first-graders in Miami-Dade public schools. EMILY MICHOT/The Miami Herald