Monroe County Schools Open Up With Masks Mandatory, Yet Optional

The school board issued a mandatory mask order, but it includes a broad opt-out provision.

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Schools are back in business in the Florida Keys.

The school year started Thursday for Monroe County Public Schools. Most of the same COVID-19 safety protocols from last year, the measures which prevented schools from being spreader environments, are in place again with one major exception: masks. 

The school board issued a mandatory mask order, but it includes a broad opt-out provision. Parents only have to fill out a form, no questions asked, and their kids can go maskless in school. So the district is not in defiance of the governor’s mandate banning school boards from requiring masks. 

“Well we just started the opt-out practice yesterday about 4:00, so we’re not sure how widespread it will be, we’re glad parents have a choice,” said Lisa Taylor, the principal at Plantation Key School, a K-8 with more than 500 students.

A mother whose son was hospitalized with MIS-C is thankful Monroe County's school district made masks mandatory. NBC 6's Kim Wynne reports

Some parents aren’t so glad. We approached about 20 cars in the pickup line after school. Most of the drivers would not discuss the issue on camera, with one parent telling us, “this town is too small to get into this fight.”

A handful of parents and grandparents offered their opinions. 

“I actually prefer that until the whole thing is cleared, that masks should be a requirement, but some parents are making it political rather than saving lives,” said Mario Leon, who was waiting for his first-grader. 

“I think I would like to err on the side of caution,” Maria Ward said as she was picking up her two grandchildren. 

“I'm in favor of kids coming with mask because the situation is really bad right here in Florida,” said Brian Morales, father of a first-grader. 

“You know, it’s really up to them, but I feel more comfortable having the mask. My grandson’s gonna wear the mask,” said Kathy Trentine. 

Clearly, the school district favors masks. The online opt-out form contains a link to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance on the issue. The experts there are saying everyone, especially kids too young to get the vaccine, should be masked in classrooms. The American Academy of Pediatrics concurs with that position.

“I think the more information you have about making decisions like this, the better your decision-making process is, and we tried to provide information that’s helpful,” Taylor said. 

There’s a big difference between the Monroe County Schools policy and the plan just adopted this week by Broward County Public Schools. 

To opt out of wearing a mask in Broward, a student must show a verified medical reason why they can’t wear a mask. Monroe County Schools is encouraging everyone to mask up, and hoping for the best. 

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