Broward County Public Schools voted Friday to make masks mandatory for visitors and vendors, but did not require them for students and employees.
The new policy, sparked by the surge of the omicron variant, takes effect when classes resume Monday.
On Thursday, Miami-Dade County Public Schools decided that all employees, volunteers and visitors will be required to wear face coverings at schools and facilities, and students will be strongly encouraged to wear them.
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Gov. Ron DeSantis signed into law in November a measure that prevents school districts from imposing mask mandates for students.
Teacher Sarah Lerner was hoping the school board would openly defy state law and once again require masks for students.
“Mandating masks would help slow and stop the spread, but the governor made it impossible for school boards to do that," Lerner said.
The school board members had that reality hanging over their heads as they debated how to keep teachers and students safe during this omicron surge. A proposal to mandate masks for all adults on school grounds, including staff members, faced opposition from teachers union president Anna Fusco.
“Mandating is an insult," Fusco said. "Have faith and trust in the educators that are employed, showing up through tragedies, through severe sickness.”
School board chair Laurie Rich Levinson was openly disappointed with the board’s action and wanted a mask mandate for all employees.
"The majority of the board would like to implement it for students and staff but due to the new law that was passed in November, our hands are tied," Levinson said. "There’s no home rule and we must follow the law as passed, and that’s what brought us to where we are today. Some members of the board felt that since students didn’t have to, we shouldn’t mandate staff to.”
“I think it’s challenging to force masking on staff only when we are not legally allowed to mandate student masking," said school board member Lori Alhadeff.
On Friday, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported more than 75,900 new cases of COVID-19 in Florida. This marks a single-day record for the number of new cases in the state.
Hospitalizations in the state have increased over 144% in the past week, though more than 25% of adult ICU beds remain available.
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