Broward school district backpedals on mask mandate after DeSantis says he’ll cut funds

Broward County Public Schools backtracked on its mask mandate Monday, saying the district would comply with the governor’s executive order that prevents schools from requiring facial coverings.

“Broward County Public Schools intends to comply with the Governor’s latest Executive Order,’’ the district said in a statement Monday afternoon.

Last Wednesday, the nine-member Broward School Board unanimously voted to require masks for all students, teachers, staff and visitors at its schools after the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said on the same day that all students, teachers, staff and visitors should wear masks inside K-12 schools, regardless of whether they are vaccinated. The first day of school for Broward public schools is Aug. 18.

The school board and CDC decision came as the highly infectious delta variant of COVID-19 has continued to spread rapidly throughout the country, with Florida accounting for more than 1 in 5 new COVID cases in the United States. On Saturday, Florida reported 21,683 new COVID cases to the CDC for Friday, July 30, the single-biggest, one-day spike in new cases since the pandemic began 18 months ago.

On the same day that Florida had its single highest count of new COVID cases, Gov. Ron DeSantis issued an executive order that would allow the State Board of Education to withhold funding to any district in the state that forced students to wear masks when they returned to school. DeSantis said he wants parents to be able to decide whether to have their children wear masks.

Shortly after the order was issued Friday, Anna Fusco, president of the Broward Teachers Union, said in a statement the BTU was “extremely disappointed that Gov. DeSantis is choosing not to follow CDC guidelines for a disease that is as transmissible as chicken pox and more transmissible than the flu or common cold.”

She was not available for comment Monday.

Although it reversed its position on school masks, the Broward school district said it would push students and teachers to get vaccinated. Children 12 and over are eligible for the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine; the Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines are for those 18 and older.

“Safety remains our highest priority,” the district said in the statement. “The District will advocate for all eligible students and staff to receive vaccines and strongly encourage masks to be worn by everyone in schools.”

The district also said it would work to “adhere to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines, including frequent cleaning and disinfecting of our schools, physical distancing, hand washing, and staying home when sick.

“The District is continuing to collaborate with our local health organizations to monitor trends in the spread of COVID-19 and variants,” it said.

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