The school board in Broward County, Florida, voted Wednesday to implement a mask mandate that applies to students and faculty in all county classrooms this fall, a policy Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis fiercely opposes.
Broward County Public Schools will comply with updated Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance recommending that all individuals in areas with high COVID-19 transmission wear masks indoors, regardless of vaccination status, WLRN-TV reported.
According to the CDC, the entire state of Florida has a high level of community transmission. Over the past week in Broward County there have been 6,055 new COVID cases and 1,037 new hospitalizations, levels of transmission that would trigger the CDC's recommendation to wear masks indoors.
In response, though school board members had hoped to make masks optional in the fall, the board decided that mask-wearing would be mandatory.
"I really wanted to start this school year as normal as possible," board member Lori Alhadeff said, "and a few weeks ago, I thought that we were in a position to go back to school without wearing masks and giving parents a choice."
"But now with COVID soaring, and the Delta variant, a lot has changed," she said.
Parents who attended Wednesday's school board meeting voiced opposition to the mask mandates, arguing that face coverings make it hard for their kids to breathe, to learn, and to socialize with their peers.
Some of the parents voiced anger at the CDC, accusing the agency of "flip flopping" its position on masks, school board member Debbi Hixon said.
Just two months ago, the CDC issued guidance that fully vaccinated people could return to life as normal, without social distancing or mask-wearing because they were immunized. Now, because of concerns that some vaccinated people can still become infected with and transmit the Delta variant, the CDC has changed its position.
"They weren't flip flopping. They're using data and facts to make the best decisions for the time," Hixon argued. "And I think that we have to do the same thing."
Raymond Adderly, the senior class president at Fort Lauderdale High School and the student adviser to the school board, voiced support for the mask mandate.
"Although masks are super inconvenient, I'd rather see students have an inconvenience with breathing, wearing a mask — than having an inconvenience breathing on a ventilator," Adderly said, noting that a 15-year-old student at J.P. Tarvella High School was recently hospitalized with a severe case of COVID-19.
But mask mandates face opposition from the governor. DeSantis, who has received acclaim from conservatives for refusing to enact severe coronavirus restrictions, has vowed to call together a special session of the state legislature to pass a bill that would prohibit Florida school districts from imposing mask mandates. The governor believes forced masking is unnecessarily coercive.
A spokeswoman for DeSantis' office told WLRN his position on mask mandates has not changed after Broward County's decision.
"At the end of the day, the Governor trusts parents to weigh the risks and benefits and make the best choices for their own kids," DeSantis press secretary Christina Pushaw said.