Public school students return to class in Broward County with masks on

Students and teachers returned to classrooms Wednesday in Broward County, and at least for the beginning of the school year, a mask mandate is in effect.

BROWARD COUNTY, Fla. – Students and teachers returned to classrooms Wednesday in Broward County, and at least for the beginning of the school year, a mask mandate is in effect.

Broward Public Schools Interim Superintendent Vicki Cartwright kicked off the morning by cheerfully greeting bus drivers at the terminal in Pembroke Pines, but Broward school leaders’ build up to the first day of school was full of plenty of controversy.

“The one thing I’m going to stand by is, folks, when I’m looking at the numbers and we only have five -- five pediatric ICU beds available in all of Broward County and this is a school of over 260,000 students. That is quite alarming,” Cartwright said.

Because a school mask ban is in place for the state of Florida, state education officials now have to decide whether to punish the district.

The state’s education commissioner is in favor of punishing Broward County Public Schools for not following the governor’s executive order that calls for masking to be optional.

He is calling for sanctions against the district, but wouldn’t say what kind.

Last week, he threatened to withhold salaries of superintendents and school board members.

Cartwright and other school board members were unyielding, however, on the school board’s decision to require masks in schools to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and a student is only able to opt out for medical reasons.

School officials say they met with principals Tuesday night to talk about mask implementation and teachers were told that if kids don’t want to wear a mask, they have to be sent to the office.

“If they do not have an exception, a qualifiable exception, we want to provide them a mask. We want to continue to urge them to wear a mask,” Broward Schools Chief of Staff Jeffrey Moquin said.

Parents of those who don’t comply with the mandate will be notified.

“If a student blatantly disregards the health and safety of others and/or refuses to comply with wearing a face covering, discipline will be in accordance with the Code of Student Conduct,” the district’s rule states.

The teacher’s union president explained possible consequences.

“If they’re just blatantly not going to comply then they will ask to be picked up,” Anna Fusco said.

Broward’s interim superintendent said this is all about protecting kids.

“The delta variant poses an immediate danger to public health, safety and welfare and (I) believe our district is taking prudent responsible measures,” Cartwright said.

After the bus depot stop, Cartwright visited Cypress Bay High School in Westin and then Dolphin Bay Elementary, where she greeted masked students, welcoming them to their first day.

“My son is really excited that he’s back to his classmates,” one parent, Maddie Medder, said. “He’s been here since kindergarten and now he’s in third grade.”

School leaders continued to stress health and safety and teachers say they can now get $250 bonuses for getting vaccinated.

“It takes the community to take care of our future, and we are here today with all hands on deck to make sure that this is going to be a successful first day of school,” Cartwright said.

About the Author:

Saira Anwer joined the Local 10 News team in July 2018. Saira is two-time Emmy-nominated reporter and comes to South Florida from Madison, Wisconsin, where she was working as a reporter and anchor.