Just days after the school year started with in-person classes in Broward County, Miami-Dade County began the 2021-22 year Monday with a similar mandate requiring masks on campus.
“Today is the day, as I often say, is the equivalent of reawakening the sleeping giant from its summer nap: return to school," superintendent Alberto Carvalho said Monday.
Roughly 350,000 students in Miami-Dade County Public Schools are feeling trepidation mixed with excitement for the first day.
"We decided to make the first day of school a really big deal, because, we want kids to associate our school with love and learning and joy," said Kayla Johnson, the principal of Kipp Royalty Academy.
Miami-Dade Students, Teachers Return to Campuses Monday
Some parents were teary eyed dropping their youngsters off for the first day, while others could not stop smiling.
“Have a good day, meet new friends, be nice to your friends, share and all that good stuff,” was the message from Edroy Brown to his child, Y'hoshua.
Last Wednesday, the school board voted 7-1 to defy Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and the state Board of Education by imposing a mandatory mask mandate for students and staff at its schools - joining counties like Broward, Palm Beach, Hillsborough, and Alachua in making masks mandatory.
Friday, Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran said both Broward and Alachua County must comply with DeSantis' executive order banning such mandates by 10 a.m. Tuesday before both counties could face sanctions.
“This is not a political statement, this is a protective tool for our students and employees, the multi-layer approach is the best guarantee to maintaining our schools open," Carvalho said Monday.
A student can show a verified medical reason not to wear a mask. The one board member who voted against the mandate, Lubby Navarro, said parents should make the decision for their kids.
“Knowing the health conditions in consultation with your pediatrician, that’s your choice as a parent, we cannot dictate what is best for the parent because the state law mandates that we give the parents the option,” Navarro said.
Maria Galindo, a second grade teacher at Hialeah Gardens Elementary School, said she feels better knowing all students will be masking up.
“I know that we’re going to keep them safe and we’re going to work very hard for them to be able to enjoy learning in a safe environment," she said Friday.
Carvalho partnered with University of Miami Health on Saturday to provide free vaccinations to school-aged children who are eligible. Some schools are requiring social distancing and offering testing to keep their campuses safe.
“We know that students being home was difficult so we’re looking forward to all our students coming back,” Carvalho said.
With COVID cases rising across the state, North Miami Senior High School Principal Patrick Lacouty is looking to keep students in the classroom responsibly.
“When our students are here, they do better, so we want them to be here,” Lacouty said.
Miami Mayor Francis Suarez on Friday joined the Miami Police Department to present a simple message: plan ahead and give yourself plenty of time to get to school with classes back in session on campus.
"This is going to create a lot of extra traffic on our roads, so pack your patience expect traffic delays and leave home early," Miami PD Deputy Chief Heather Morris said.
Police officers and crossing guards will be at all schools in the city to make sure everyone is safe getting to class.