FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – As the Delta variant fuels a surge in COVID cases in South Florida, the School Board of Broward County decided to continue standing by the enforcement of indoor face mask use.
Broward County Public Schools’ universal indoor mask mandate with a medical opt-out remains in effect in school buses and school buildings without major opposition from students and their parents. On Tuesday, a few dozen people were outside of the School Board of Broward County’s building protesting with signs like “Freedom Not Force,” “Kids Are Low Risk” and “No masks!”
The Florida Department of Education claims the mandate is in violation of Gov. Ron DeSantis’ July 30th executive order to protect parents’ freedom. Rosalind Osgood, the School Board of Broward County’s chair, has said the conflict over face masks doesn’t make any sense when the priority is to protect lives during the coronavirus pandemic.
“We believe strongly that the local citizenry elected a local school board in accordance with the Florida Constitution to govern and make policies for school districts, so we feel that the governor is really overreaching his authority,” Osgood said.
The order opposes the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s recommendation for a universal indoor face mask mandate at schools around the nation. The members of the State Board of Education voted to allow the Florida Commissioner of Education Richard Corcoran to sanction school districts in violation of DeSantis’ order.
Corcoran gave BCPS a Tuesday deadline to comply or face sanctions; Broward didn’t comply, saying face masks help to support the safe environment needed to continue in-person learning. Broward County Interim Superintendent Vickie L. Cartwright has stood by the School Board of Broward County’s position.
“We believe that we are operating within our constitutional rights,” Cartwright said. “We also believe that there is an overreach from the State Board of Education.”
U.S. Education Secretary Miguel Cardona said COVID-relief funds will be used to support any financial sanctions the DeSantis’ administration could impose on school districts that are following the CDC recommendation. Osgood said Corcoran is not allowing the district due process.
“Normally when you are in a process like this and you are sanctioned or you are given a directive, or you are accused of not following the law, you get a measure of due process, we have not been given any due process, during this procedure that we are following,” Osgood said.
According to the CDC, Broward County is an area of high transmission. BCPS started to update the COVID dashboard and reported that since the 2021-22 school year started on Aug. 18 there have been 84 students and 68 employees who tested positive for the coronavirus.
“Millions of people have died from COVID, not one person has died from wearing a mask,” Osgood wrote on Twitter earlier this week.
The official COVID death toll in Florida stands at 42,716, including 3,079 deaths in Broward County. The other school districts requiring face masks in Florida are Miami-Dade, Palm Beach, Hillsborough, Duval, Sarasota, Alachua and Leon counties.
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