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Masks should be voluntary in schools in the fall, says Florida education commissioner

Colleen Wright, Ana Ceballos
·2 min read

Florida Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran on Wednesday asked school superintendents to revise their school district’s mask policy, if they have one, to be voluntary instead of mandatory for the 2021-22 school year.

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Optional Facemask Policy Memo by Miami Herald

In a memo, Corcoran bolded and underlined reasons that he says are why districts should make masks voluntary: That data shows that districts’ face covering policies do not impact the spread of the coronavirus; that families and individuals should maintain their ability to make a decision unique to their circumstances; and that broad sweeping mandatory face covering policies “serve no remaining good at this point in our schools.”

Corcoran did not include any data to back up his claims in the letter.

Corcoran called the policy revision one of the surgical, instead of sweeping, decisions to mitigate “large-scale educational disruptions” going into the next school year. He said masks may “unintentionally create a barrier” for students and families who would otherwise choose in-person instruction if such a policy were not in place.

Also in bold and underlined: That masks may impede instruction for students with disabilities and English language learners who benefit from viewing a teacher’s face and mouth.

Corcoran also said he expected to see more students participate in face-to-face instruction.

“Right now, our schools are safer than the communities at large,” Corcoran wrote. “This safety record should only increase next school year with the increased availability of vaccines.”

United Teachers of Dade president Karla Hernandez-Mats said the union is looking forward to finally welcoming students back into schools, although she took issue with Corcoran’s request to make masks voluntary, not mandatory.

“However, even with an increasing number of people getting vaccinated, safety measures must continue to be implemented,” she said in a statement Wednesday night. “The only way to safely and successfully reopen our schools is by following CDC guidelines, including the use of masks, handwashing, and socially distancing. Our priority will continue to be ensuring the health and safety of our students, teachers, and staff.”

On Tuesday, Miami-Dade County Public Schools’ public health and medical expert task force met and did not make any changes to its existing COVID-19 protocols and quarantine procedures, which include masks for all students, faculty and staff.

The district has said it would like all students to return to classrooms this fall.

Corcoran’s memo to school superintendents mirrors Gov. Ron DeSantis’ stance on local mask mandates during the pandemic. In March, DeSantis signed an executive order that wiped out fines imposed on people or businesses for violating COVID-19-related ordinances, including mask orders.

It follows a September executive order in which DeSantis ordered cities and counties to stop collecting fines and penalties on individuals for violating mask ordinances. The governor himself rarely used a mask during public events.

This is a developing story. Check back for updates.