Only three FL school districts of 67 have strict mask mandates following legal battles

By: - November 8, 2021 4:52 pm

Student wearing mask. Credit: Stock photo/Getty Images.

Just weeks ago, the Florida education system was ablaze in political and legal battles over strict mask mandates, culminating with state education officials taking salaries away from eight local school boards as punishment.

But now, several factors have led to only three districts maintaining strict mask policies. Those school districts are Alachua, Broward and Miami-Dade.

In fact, Florida Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran has even thanked some districts — in Brevard, Leon and Palm Beach counties — on Twitter for backing off of their strict mask mandates and “empowering parents.”

“Let’s keep working together to provide students a world-class education,” he tweeted Wednesday.

However, several districts have claimed they loosened their strict mask policies because of promising COVID-19 case trends.

Originally, eight school districts had mask mandates of some form of a mask policy that would only allow students to opt-out through a medical exemption, not at the parents’ discretion. Those districts were: Alachua, Broward, Brevard, Duval, Leon, Orange, Miami-Dade and Palm Beach.

But the DeSantis administration, which includes Corcoran and the state education officials, said that these districts violated state law and a new emergency rule from the Florida Department of Health. Together, the law and emergency rule protect parents’ right to direct the upbringing of their child, state officials claim.

The Board of Education decided to withhold the salaries of these school boards, along with additional penalties, until the districts comply with the state.

Six of these districts challenged the rule before an administrative law judge: Alachua, Broward, Duval, Leon, Orange and Miami-Dade.

On Friday, that judge rejected a challenge filed by school boards against a Department of Health rule. A communications staffer with the Alachua County school district said that they intend to appeal.

Here’s a breakdown of current mask policies of the eight school districts originally deemed “non-compliant” by the Department of Education:

/Alachua: The Gainesville-based school district will continue to require masks for kindergarten through 8th grade, unless the student has a medical exemption through Dec. 7, according to an update posted on the district’s website. Currently, high school students can opt out if their parents sign a form.

The update also notes that masks will be optional for all students when students return from winter break in January.

/Broward: Located in South Florida, the district altered its mask policy but still requires masks for certain groups of students. Those attending traditional high schools, masks will be strongly encouraged but not required and there is not a formal opt-out process for these students, according to the district’s website.

However, elementary schools, middle schools, and schools that blend elementary, middle and high school students require masks unless a student has a medical exemption.

/Brevard: Pre-K through 6th grade students need a parental opt-out form. All other students can make the decision to wear a mask or not without a form, according to a communications staffer with the district. The Brevard County school district is located on Florida’s Atlantic Coast.

/Duval: The Jacksonville-based district now allows students to opt their children out of the masks so long as the parent fills out an online opt-out form, according to an Oct. 29 update on the district website.

/Leon: At the state capital in Tallahassee masks are required; however, parents can opt their child out by signing a form.

/Orange: Parents can opt their child out of the mask requirement through a signed note sent to their student’s school, according to a Twitter update from Orange County Superintendent Barbara Jenkins. Orange County is located in Central Florida.

/Miami-Dade: Parents can opt-out high school students and traditional middle school students through a form, according to a district update on Twitter from Nov. 1. However, middle-school aged student attending a school spanning kindergarten through 8th grade as well as all elementary school kids are required to wear a mask unless they have a medical exemption.

/Palm Beach: Parents can opt out their students out of wearing masks as of Monday, Nov. 8, according to a community update. The district is located in South Florida.

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Danielle J. Brown
Danielle J. Brown

Danielle J. Brown is a 2018 graduate of Florida State University. She has served as an editorial intern for International Program’s annual magazine and Rowland Publishing. She was born and raised in Tallahassee and reviews community theater productions for the Tallahassee Democrat.