In spite of an executive order by Florida’s Governor Ron Desantis to preempt schools from implementing mask mandates, every day the number of school districts that have implemented them anyway has grown. Prior to the executive order, Desantis and State Representative Randy Fine threatened a special legislative session to “pre-empt” any attempt of schools to put mask mandates into place. It is reported that the special session did not occur because they did not have the support they needed from the rest of the legislation in order to act, so Desantis issued the executive order instead.
Just today, Palm Beach County and Seminole County have joined Broward, Duval, Hillsborough, Leon, Alachua, and yesterday Orange County in mandating masks for all staff and students for this upcoming school year. Parents do however, have an option to “opt out” of the policy if they choose for their child to not where a mask. The “opt out” process is different for each district. Orange County simply requires a note from the parents to be delivered by the student to their teacher.
A rule requiring schools to let parents or guardians “opt-out the student from wearing a face covering or mask,” along with rules for COVID-19 symptoms, positives and exposures was signed Friday, by Surgeon General Scott Rivkees.
Also on Friday, the State Board of Education released a proposed emergency rule.
In Brevard County, the issue of mask mandates was discussed but not voted on in an impassioned meeting that lead to several citizens being removed from the meeting by Sheriff Deputies. Board member Jennifer Jenkins advocated strongly to renew the mask mandate because of the record setting outbreak of the Covid-19 Delta variant that is breaking records every day in Florida, and reportedly infecting more children who are too young for the vaccination, than ever before. Florida leads the entire nation and is averaging 35 pediatric hospitalizations per day from Covid-19.
Jenkins pushed for a special meeting so that the board could vote on the issue before school starts on August 10th, which is when the next school board meeting is scheduled for. Her request was only supported by one other school board member, Cheryl McDougall, and did not pass. Since then, Jenkins has sent 2 separate requests for the special meeting to the superintendent, and board, as cases have increased daily. The latest request was emailed today. A special meeting can happen in one of 3 ways; the superintendent can call for it, the chair of the board, or 3 of the 5 board members supporting it. Without an emergency meeting, over 80,000 students will attend a full school day without a mask mandate, before the scheduled 5:30 regular board meeting.
Jenkins’ position on requiring masks for children is supported by the American Academy of Pediatrics, as they released new recommendations in July. “AAP recommends universal masking because a significant portion of the student population is not yet eligible for vaccines, and masking is proven to reduce transmission of the virus and to protect those who are not vaccinated.”
Brevard School Board Chair Misty Belford said in an email that she didn’t support the mask mandate out of fear of retaliation from the State. Desantis’ executive order threatens to withhold funding from any district that implements the mandate. That order is now being challenged in court by several lawsuits filed by parents questioning the constitutionality of the order.
Board member Katie Campbell said she feels like we are in a different place than we were last year when she voted for the mandate, because a vaccine is now available. She stated she thinks the masks did make a difference last school year, although there have been no specific studies on it. She stated she wants to encourage parents to mask their children, arming them with the data, and to keep your kids home if they are sick, but not in favor of a mandate. But she also stated that she believes there have been some detriments to the masks, and cited autistic children specifically. She also stated she wanted to discuss a possible mandate for masks on the school bus.
Jenkins did ask the health professionals who attended the meeting if they were aware of any negative patient outcomes from students wearing masks, and they stated no.
Cheryl McDougall pointed out that we had to close 2 schools last year because of outbreaks, and wants to do everything we can to prevent that from happening again, because she wants kids physically in school.
School board member Matt Susin wanted to wait until he got local hospitalization rates for pediatrics before making any decisions, but he is not in support of a special meeting. He also stated he wanted to reduce the quarantine time for student athletes so that they won’t miss games, even though the kids will likely still be symptomatic during the time he requested it reduced to. His idea didn’t appear to have any support from the rest of the board. Last year, Susin infamously told everyone to “wear your f-ing masks!”
Helen Medlin, the program manager of epidemiology at the Florida Department of Health in Brevard, cited the latest-available data that shows there were 3,516 new COVID-19 cases reported in Brevard during the week of July 23-29. That’s 575.3 cases per 100,000 residents.
“That’s the highest we’re ever been at any point in time during this pandemic,” Medlin said, when asked Tuesday by Brevard County commissioners for a status report on the the coronavirus pandemic.
Medlin said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention considers 100 cases per 100,000 to be indicative of a “high transmission” level.
“So I don’t know what you would call 575,” Medlin said. “It’s kind of off the scale. We’re not in a great position right now.”
With a majority of the reasons for not supporting a mandate now moot from the new rules, and data from the hospitals showing increasing numbers of child hospitalizations, it is highly likely that at least one of the other 3 members will join Jenkins and McDougall in support of a mandate with an opt-out option.
Below are the numbers from the BPS Covid-19 Dashboard that reflect the current situation before school has even started.