While Florida law bans school districts from imposing mask mandates on students, Broward County Public Schools and Miami-Dade County schools in the southern part of the state are requiring the face coverings for adults, vendors and visitors, and is ''strongly encouraging'' students and staff to wear them as well.
''The School Board of Broward County, Florida, voted today to amend School Board Policy 2170 to require vendors and visitors to wear face coverings while indoors in any district school, facility or vehicle beginning Monday, Jan. 3, 2022,'' the district announced Friday. ''Students, although not required to wear face coverings due to a recent state law, and employees are strongly encouraged to do so.''
The district went on to say that the recent surge of new omicron COVID-19 cases over the holidays was the reason for the change.
''We are grateful to our parents, guardians and caregivers for their strong consideration and support in sending their children to school next week with face coverings. We are also thankful to our employees for wearing face coverings while at work,'' Vickie L. Cartwright, Broward County Public Schools interim superintendent, said in the press release announcing the change. ''BCPS will continue to work with our partners to assist our students, with parent permission, and employees to have access to vaccines and tests.''
Miami-Dade County schools, just south of Broward County, are also requiring masks for all adults in its buildings, beginning Monday, according to the Miami Herald.
''It's clear that the increase in cases is mainly driven by the highly contagious omicron variant,'' Superintendent Alberto Carvalho said outside the school district offices on Thursday. ''We are forced to do what we've done for a long period of time, which is embrace protective protocols for the well-being of our students and workforce.''
Under a new state law, signed by Gov. Ron DeSantis in November, districts are not allowed to require face coverings for students, or separate them from other students for not wearing one.
The district teaches 261,000 students as well as 110,000 adult students in 241 schools, centers and technical colleges, making it the sixth largest district in the nation, and second largest in the state, according to the organization.
The district is one of eight that challenged the new law after DeSantis, a Republican, said he would withhold almost $900,000 in state funding for districts that continued to require students and staff to wear masks, according to a Dec. 16 report from ClickOrlando.com.
The U.S. Department of Education filed a cease-and-desist complaint against the state Oct. 28 but dropped it after the eight districts complied with the new law, and the DeSantis administration released the funding, the article said.
''Following the state of Florida returning the withheld funds to local education agencies, the department withdrew the current cease-and-desist complaint,'' DOE spokesman Luke Jackson said in an email to the publication. ''The department will continue to assist any state or local education agency to sustain safe in-person learning for all students.''
The districts complied in early November due to a large drop in new COVID cases, but the emergence of the more contagious omicron variant, while seemingly less severe, has caused a record number of new cases in Florida and around the nation.
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