The new COVID-19 rules that landed Broward County schools into national headlines did not meet much resistance on the first day of school Wednesday: Just one student and one staff member ran afoul of the mandate requiring all to be masked indoors.
So, out of 275,785 students enrolled, just one did not come with the required accessory, school district officials said.
Gov. Ron DeSantis has said that schools can’t require student masks without offering parents a way to opt out of face coverings. As a result, Broward’s mandatory student mask rules prompted threats from the state Board of Education on Tuesday. School Board members might be removed and the district may be docked state aid in an amount equivalent to the combined salaries of the interim superintendent and School Board members, according to Tuesday’s meeting. Alachua County schools are facing the same sanctions for their rules.
But Broward’s Interim Superintendent Vickie Cartwright called the first day “exciting”— in a good way.
“I saw instruction occurring on the very first day of school,” she said.
Cartwright reported that 436 students and 191 staff members could not be at school on the first day — they were in quarantine, but not because of COVID-19 exposure Wednesday.
“Prior to school starting, so this is not a result of today,” Cartwright said.
Eleven students applied to receive a Hope Scholarship, which allows them to take public money to a private school, Cartwright said. The scholarship designed to help bullied students transfer out of situations involving discriminatory, insulting, or dehumanizing verbal, written or physical conduct was expanded to include those who experience “COVID-19 harassment,” which amounts to treating students differently because of their compliance with COVID-19 protocols.
Broward and Alachua schools were the first to run afoul of the Governor’s order that prohibited districts to order face masks for students against parental wishes. The dust-up has prompted a series of confrontations between the Governor and other elected officials, right up to President Biden.
DeSantis says he’s fighting for parental rights and acknowledging that masks present a host of issues for children’s health. Critics of DeSantis say he’s being a tyrant in disregarding local control and local officials’ right to consider local circumstances in deciding how to best to keep students safe.
“Thank you BCPS board for standing your ground and protecting our students!!” Cathy Coloca of Davie posted on the district’s Facebook page. “It’s insane for masks to be optional with 100% back in class and half the district not even eligible for the vaccine!!”
Others were just as insistent in their condemnation.
“Can’t wait till our Gov fires you for breaking the law!! Unmask our children!!!” said someone posting as Brandon Elrod under the same post.
As the rhetoric has escalated, so has support for the districts disobeying DeSantis. Florida Senate Democrats have vowed to start a GoFundMe page so no one in the offending districts misses a paycheck. U.S. Education Secretary Miguel Cardona has promised federal funds to offset any losses.
Even with state policymakers’ pressure mounting, Alachua County voted to extend its two-week mask mandate on Tuesday. And Hillsborough and Miami-Dade counties Wednesday adopted the same masking requirement for students, unless they have a documented medical reason to be exempt.
Jackie Johnson, spokeswoman for Alachua County schools, said required face coverings for students haven’t been much of an issue for those who must comply or be sent home.
“The vast majority are complying,” Johnson said, estimating that the scofflaws amount to “less than 10 if not less than five” among the 28,000 attending Alachua County schools.
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Kick his butt Broward! Serve and protect our children with truth and facts. Lock up Duffus Desantis for willingly slaughtering Floridians and our children! Duffus Desantis solution is get the virus and let me push the pharma “cure” . Why? Pharma is Duffus Desantis largest bs donor to for his political bs! Lock him up!
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