FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – The reopening of Florida schools during the COVID-19 pandemic has been deemed a success by many superintendents statewide and by Florida’s education commissioner.
This year, face masks have been mandatory, but that won’t necessarily be the case in the fall.
Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran has notified school districts of a policy change. In a letter to Florida school systems, the commissioner wrote that “broad sweeping mandatory face covering policies serve no remaining good at this point in our schools.”
“We ask that districts, which currently are implementing a mandated face covering policy, revise their policy to be voluntary for the 2021-22 school year,” Corcoran’s letter said.
Corcoran says his team reviewed health data in school districts and found face-covering policies don’t impact the spread of the virus, though no scientific details were in that letter.
The letter also says: “Mandatory face covering policies inhibit peer-to-peer learning in our classrooms and they may also unintentionally create a barrier for students and families who would otherwise choose in person instruction if such a policy were not in place.”
While it’s not a mandate, it is guidance the school districts must consider.
Outside of the Broward school board headquarters Thursday, the teachers union president joined the superintendent and board members to announce a new contract to give educators raises. The topic shifted to Corcoran’s letter.
“We’ve tried to make sure what we do aligns with the county’s requirement, so Broward County still has a mask requirement in place,” Superintendent Robert Runcie said.
Broward Teachers Union President Anna Fusco added: “We’re going to keep that commitment to keep all of our students safe and healthy, all of our educators safe and healthy.”
Students have been given an option to continue remote learning instead of returning to classrooms this school year, but Broward County Public Schools is on record saying that blended learning approach won’t be an option come the fall, as other safety measures are implemented and more people are vaccinated in the community.
In Miami-Dade, leaders are finalizing their decision.
“We’re going to be hopeful that conditions continue to improve, but any recommendation that we make will be after consultation with our medical and public health experts that advise our school system,” Superintendent Alberto Carvalho said.
In response to Corcoran’s letter about masks, United Teachers of Dade President Karla Hernandez-Mats released a statement, saying “safety measures must continue to be implemented” as the community is not yet in the clear from COVID-19.
“We are looking forward to finally welcoming our students back in 2021 and continuing to do what we do best: teach,” the statement read. “Our students learn best in the classroom, surrounded by their classmates, and engaging with their teachers. However, even with an increasing number of people getting vaccinated, safety measures must continue to be implemented. The only way to safely and successfully reopen our schools is by following CDC guidelines, including the use of masks, handwashing, and socially distancing. Our priority will continue to be ensuring the health and safety of our students, teachers, and staff.”