Runcie on face mask mandates at public schools: We need to err on the side of caution

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – Robert Runcie, the outgoing Broward County Public Schools superintendent, said Thursday face masks and vaccines are needed to have a safe education at schoolhouses during the coronavirus pandemic.

With the first day of school approaching, Runcie responded to the dilemma members of the School Board of Broward County face after passing a face mask mandate last week before Gov. Ron DeSantis issued an executive order to ban face mask mandates at public schools in Florida.

“I think we need to err on the side of being as cautious as possible,” Runcie said, as he visited Stranahan High School in Fort Lauderdale to unveil the students’ new media center.

Runcie said this is not a good time to politicize public health measures; it’s the time to use science to protect lives. He believes school districts need to listen to the recommendations of the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Runcie wants parents who oppose the face mask mandates to think about the health of teachers if students don’t use face masks to protect them and they end up in quarantine at home after a positive coronavirus test or hospitalized with COVID.

“It doesn’t matter whether your kids wear a mask or not because there won’t be a teacher there,” Runcie said.

Related story: Latest Florida Department of Health report on COVID data

Runcie said schools need to mandate face mask use until conditions improve. Coronavirus cases and hospitalizations over COVID have been steadily increasing since the beginning of July.

DeSantis threatened to pull funding from school districts that choose to ignore his executive order and issue face mask mandates anyway. Runcie said this shouldn’t dissuade school administrators from prioritizing public health.

“You can always find a way to address the money issues, but when someone’s health is destroyed you can’t bring that back,” Runcie said.

Debra Hixon, a member of the School Board of Broward County, was at Stranahan High School with Runcie.

“Using the same information that we have used all this time, I would continue to advocate for all people to wear masks, Hixon said.

The School Board of Broward County is scheduled to have a 9 a.m. meeting and a 3 p.m. workshop on Tuesday to discuss the face mask mandate. The Florida State Board of Education plans to hold an emergency board meeting to discuss face mask mandates at 11 a.m. on Friday., Officials will Livestream it on the Florida Channel.

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About the Authors:

In January 2017, Hatzel Vela became the first local television journalist in the country to move to Cuba and cover the island from the inside. During his time living and working in Cuba, he covered some of the most significant stories in a post-Fidel Castro Cuba. 

The Emmy Award-winning journalist joined the Local 10 News team in 2013. She wrote for the Miami Herald for more than 9 years and won a Green Eyeshade Award.