Students whose parents do not opt them out of wearing masks will be forced to wear them in Duval County schools, until the district finds out more information.
Superintendent Diana Greene said Friday that unless a parent or guardian explicitly opts their child out of the mask guidance, the district will provide them with masks.
The opt-out form will be available Friday, Greene said on Action News Jax, and her strong advice was for parents who don’t want kids in masks to fill out the form ahead of the first day of school Tuesday.
Greene said district officials are meeting with school principals Friday to finalize preparations, and the opt-out forms will be available later in the afternoon on the district’s parent portal.
Greene sidestepped a question as to whether the decision, mandated by the Duval County School Board, was a way to get around what was framed by Gov. Ron DeSantis as a categorical ban on district mask requirements.
“This was simply about ensuring we could do the very best in protecting our students within the guidelines of the executive order … Our School Board listened intently to our families at the last School Board meeting, and this opportunity for parents to tell us how they feel led to this wording for our code of student conduct, which by the way is only valid for 90 days. We’ll have to come back and address the issue later this school year,” Greene said.
The Superintendent’s comments come just hours before the state Board of Education is set to impose rules banning mask mandates without the opt-out option. However, what’s clear here is that unless the parent explicitly opts the student out, there is in fact a mask mandate, however momentary it might be, in Duval County schools. Absent explicit parental declaration, the district decides.
Meanwhile, the draft version of the rule, first reported by POLITICO Florida‘s Andrew Atterbury contemplates “COVID-19 harassment.”
“Unnecessarily isolating, quarantining, or subjecting children to physical COVID-19 constraints in schools poses a threat to developmental upbringing,” the language reads, consistent with DeSantis’ position.
Objecting to students being “muzzled,” the Governor issued a categorical ban on mask requirements and stated his intent was for the Departments of Education and Health to craft rules. In the interim, school districts in Broward, Leon, Duval, and Alachua counties went their own way.
DeSantis’ rhetoric continues to be fiery on the subject, despite recent polling showing him underwater, and that masks are favored by nearly two-thirdsof Florida voters. But the implication is that Duval is in less danger of having its rule crimped by the state than Alachua, which issued a two-week mask rule without opt-outs.
“It’s the parent’s choice,” DeSantis emphasized Thursday. “Alachua County can’t override the parents.”
After the media availability, DeSantis press secretary Christina Pushaw said DeSantis “has not signed on to any district’s plan.”
“100% no to Alachua,” Pushaw added. “They blatantly defied the spirit of the executive order he signed.”
Beyond Alachua, other counties have their own rules. Broward, as of now, has a mask mandate going into the school year. And Leon wants masks for students up to eighth grade.
The endgame of these rules will be determined Friday, but Duval seems confident that absent the opt-out form, students can be compelled to mask up, at least until clarity can be provided as to what the parent or guardian wants.