Two state agencies jumped into the mandatory-masks-in-school debate Friday, supporting the governor’s executive order which bars school districts from requiring students to wear face masks.
The Florida Department of Health announced a rule that school districts must allow parents the option of sending their kids to school without masks. Almost simultaneously, the State Board of Education held a public conference call in which it announced that parents could use the Hope Scholarship, which was created to help kids who are being bullied in school, to move their kids to schools that don’t require face masks.
Under the guiding principle that parents should decide health care issues for their children, the Board of Education voted unanimously to approve the new rule.
Schools and COVID
“This rule specifically allows students who are subjected to COVID-19 harassment to transfer to a private school,” said Board counsel Matthew Mears during the conference call.
The rule defines harassment as including the wearing of face coverings. Parents would be able to use money from the Hope Scholarship, and some called in to the conference call with questions and comments.
“This rule allowing the Hope Scholarship is pretty amazing, I am hoping that you guys have decided on protocols to prevent such harassment,” said a mother from Seminole County.
“I’m concerned about the use of the word harassment. Medical protocol is not harassment, public health is not harassment,” responded a mother from Pinellas County who identified herself as a family physician.
“There is no scientific evidence that states masking is harmful to children, and quite the contrary,” said Dr. Lisa Gwynn, an associate professor of pediatrics at the University of Miami.
Gwynn is also president of the American Academy of Pediatrics Florida chapter. She points out that schools have not been covid-spreading environments largely because everyone has been masked.
“You know especially in the younger children, it’s hard to keep them physically spaced, and so that’s really their only protection from each other, so I just don’t understand the rationale behind all of this,” Dr. Gwynn said.
“They are only doing this for political gain, that is their only reason, it’s not based on science,” said state senator Shevrin Jones, Democrat of Pembroke Park.
Jones says it's outrageous to equate requiring a face mask with bullying.
“The fact that they are trying to change the narrative of what bullying really is, is insensitive to people who have been bullied over the years,” Jones said. “The fact that you are bullying school districts right now to hold to some political ideology is wrong in itself.”
Miami-Dade Schools Superintendent Alberto Carvalho says regardless of state pressure, his district will follow the science.
“We’re going to respect the position and advice of the medical experts,” Carvalho said, reiterating that his district has not yet made a decision on mandating masks.
Broward County’s school board is deciding this issue on Tuesday.
During the Board of Education meeting, there was almost no mention by the board members about science, and no talk at all that the CDC and the American Academy of Pediatrics each recommend masking kids inside schools, especially during this Delta variant surge.
One parent who called into the meeting asked if the Hope Scholarship money could be used to send her child to a school with stricter COVID-19 protocols. Her question was met with silence.