Calls grow for universal masking in schools

Published: Jul. 26, 2021 at 3:55 PM CDT
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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (CAPITOL NEWS SERVICE) - Florida reported more than 73,000 new COVID infections last week. It’s the highest since January and that has some Floridians renewing calls for universal masking when students return to school in the fall.

The pressure is building on school districts that are trying to balance safety and personal choice.

In the state’s capital, county masks will be optional for students who return in the fall. There and in districts across the state local officials are facing mounting pressure to make masks mandatory.

“There is no good reason to not have a mask mandate,” Leon County English Teacher and Parent Sarah Marquez said at a Monday rally in front of the Tallahassee City Hall.

At the rally in the shadow of the State Capitol, teachers, community members, and activists urged elected officials to follow the universal masking recommendation from the American Academy of Pediatrics.

“Putting a group of unvaccinated and unmasked people in a room is a potential super-spreader event,” Leon County Parent Isabel Ruano said.

Leon Superintendent Rocky Hanna said his decision to make masks optional was based on local health data.

“Zero hospitalizations from that age range of 5 to 11 who are not eligible for vaccines. Zero hospitalizations and zero deaths between the ages of 12 and 18,” Hanna said.

But the Florida Education Association pointed out, school officials who may favor universal masking are faced with a Governor who has vowed to call a special session to revoke masking authority if districts impose mandates.

“He’s saying he doesn’t want the federal government telling Florida what to do, but he’s gone out and said no district may do that,” FEA President Andrew Spar said.

While no districts have announced universal mask mandates so far, that could change if the Delta variant continues to spread through the state.

The Florida School Boards Association favors local control over the issue, as does Hanna.

“Let communities decide what’s best for them, best for their community,” Hanna said.

And if the Legislature does return to strip districts of their authority to regulate masking in schools, Hanna vowed he’d lead the charge taking the issue to court.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, seven children in Florida have died of COVID. More than 250,000 in that age range have been infected.