Miami-Dade public school students headed back to the classroom for the first day of school.
The state’s largest school district with 334,000 students, will have in-person learning returning to all public schools.
Masks are mandatory inside the classroom and on school buses, with only some exemptions for valid medical reasons. Students will be able to take off their masks while eating, while outside for recess, physical education, or switching classrooms.
Superintendent Alberto Carvalho understands some students may be anxious about returning to school.
“We understand the butterflies in your stomach and the anxiety. It’s going to be a great day,” he said.
The superintendent also made a stop at the district’s newest school building, MAST at Florida International University’s Biscayne Bay campus.
“It’s different, especially since everybody’s back. I got to see a bunch of people I hadn’t seen in a year and a half,” he said.
Miami-Dade County Public Schools officially implemented a mask mandate.
The board approved of the mandate as Broward County Public Schools students and teachers are required to wear masks.
The Miami-Dade school board stood their ground on mask mandates, making it clear that the governor's threats didn't phase them.
"Today, I received messages from three former State Board of Education members, including two chairs, asking me to do the right thing. If the consequence at any point in my career is a threat to my own position, it is OK," Superintendent Alberto Carvalho said.
The Miami-Dade County School Board's public health task force recommended a mask mandate for students and employees for the school year as COVID-19 cases rise.
Broward County Public Schools approved a $250 incentive for full-time staff to get their COVID-19 vaccine. The offer is available to the employees until Oct. 20.
School is back in Broward County, where pediatric COVID-19 hospitalizations are rising.
“Still a little nervous because we know our 12-and-under [students] can’t be vaccinated,” said Anna Fusco, president of the Broward Teachers Union.
Masks are required for all students and staff, with exceptions for medical issues, desks will be 3 feet apart, and there would need to be fewer kids per class and therefore more classes in general.
If students don’t want to wear face masks, staff will have a conversation with them about why and try to gain their compliance, but the school will call their parents as a last resort.
Miami-Dade Schools Superintendent Alberto Carvalho says a decision on face masks will be required when classes resume.
He will meet with a medical task force, as classes resume on August 23rd. The decision is solely up to the Superintendent and does not require a School Board vote.
“I have obtained my training in biology and medical sciences and can not quite frankly depart from that position,” he said. “If we can not trust doctors, scientists and medical experts, what is the alternative? Who shall we turn to.”
Carvalho will not be swayed by state officials that say they will withhold salaries from School Superintendents and School Board members if they mandated masks for students, teachers, employees and visitors.
“At no point should a threat against my salary factor in to the best decision I will make for students and teachers in the community. I can not compromise on that. My position is not a political one,” said Carvalho.
Three teachers and a teacher's assistant from a county that voted to require masks in schools have died from COVID-19 within the last two days.
Broward Teachers Union president Anna Fusco said the teachers were all on summer break when they contracted the coronavirus. Three of the individuals were not vaccinated, but one had recently been cleared by a doctor to receive the vaccine.
“It really hits because we've been in this conversation about masking up in schools; our own elected governor acting like masks are not necessary,” Fusco said.
Broward County Public Schools board voted to require masks, despite Gov. DeSantis' ban on mask mandates in the state of Florida.
Fusco said the tragic news underlies the importance of the county's decision to vote against the ban on mask mandates.
“It’s right here in our face. We know people. We're seeing it. We're feeling it. We're living it. You can’t say anything else than say this is real and we still all have to do our part to curb the spread,” Fusco said.
The Broward County School Board voted 8-1 in favor of keeping their mask requirement for students and staff members.
Defying Gov. Ron DeSantis’ order in a special meeting all nine board members called government overreach and abuse of power forcing school districts in Florida to make the wearing of masks optional.
The school board is seeking legal counsel to challenge some of the state orders that they argue take away local control from the public school district.
“We are charged and we were elected to keep everyone in our school building safe,” board member Debra Hixon said.
The board voted to keep mandates and only allow medical opt-outs, as the first day of school in the county is Aug. 18.
“Wearing masks inside schools regardless of vaccine status is required to deal with the changing realities of virus transmission. It is a necessary precaution until children under 12 can receive a COVID-19 vaccination and more Americans 12 and older get vaccinated,” Broward Teachers Union President Anna Fusco said in a statement following the vote. “We continue to be concerned about this variant, but our No. 1 priority remains a safe in-person school year in schools that can stay open. Given the new evidence, that means requiring everyone in school buildings to wear masks. We are thankful that the Broward School Board agrees with CDC and American Academy of Pediatrics guidance. We strongly agree that mask wearing, along with the COVID vaccine for those who are eligible, will help prevent transmission of COVID-19 and the Delta variant in classrooms at a time when Florida leads the nation in new virus cases and hospitalizations.”
Florida’s Board of Education approved a rule that will allow private school vouchers if parents feel their children are being harassed by COVID-19 safety policies, including mask requirements.
The parents could request the vouchers under provisions that are usually used to protect children who are being bullied.
“'COVID-19 harassment' means any threatening, discriminatory, insulting, or dehumanizing verbal, written or physical conduct an individual student suffers in relation to, or as a result of, school district protocols for COVID-19, including masking requirements, the separation or isolation of students, or COVID-19 testing requirements, that have the effect of substantially interfering with a student’s educational performance,” the rule reads.
The board approved the measure at an emergency meeting, as the rule the board approved has the effect of law, and that if school districts don’t comply, the board could hold up the transfer of state money.