2 of Florida’s largest school districts ease up on masks

October 31, 2021 GMT

ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — Two of Florida’s largest school districts are easing up on their masks requirement this week.

Starting Monday, Orange County students can stop wearing face masks if their parents provide a note opting them out. In Broward County, high school students can choose to wear a mask starting Monday, and it’s strongly encouraged, but it will still be mandatory for middle and elementary school students.

Orange County Public Schools’ 60-day mask mandate expired Saturday. Schools Superintendent Barbara Jenkins said it would not be extended in part because of the “significant reduction in the number of COVID-19 cases in Orange County.”

The district’s employees, parents and visitors must still wear face masks in schools, Jenkins said, a mandate likely to remain in place until Dec. 3, though that could change based on COVID-19 data, according to the Orlando Sentinel.

In Broward County, board members said mask mandates and current quarantine policies should stay in place for the lower grades until a coronavirus vaccine is widely available for children ages 5 through 11. The vaccine already is available to children 12 years and older.

“I don’t think it’s a very fair situation to put our young ones and their families at risk,” said Nora Rupert, according to the Miami Herald.

Eight school districts have defied Gov. Ron DeSantis’ order that only parents should decide if their children wear masks, not school district officials. The state has levied fines against Broward and Alachua counties’ school districts equivalent to the annual salaries of the school board members who voted for mask mandates.

In response, the Biden administration has sent $420,957 to Broward County Public Schools and $148,000 to Alachua County Public Schools to offset the fines.