The School Board of Broward County (SBBC) voted 7-1 to remove the current mask mandate and substitute it with a new optional policy on Tuesday evening. Masks will now be ‘strongly encouraged’ for middle and elementary school students, staff, visitors and vendors. A formal opt-out process is not required.
Miami-Dade County Public Schools also decided on Tuesday to relax their mask protocols for K-8 students starting November 10. Broward County Public Schools (BCPS) will implement their new policy on November 20.
“We also wanted to make sure [when choosing a date for implementation] that we gave ample opportunity for our students and our families who wanted to be able to go out and receive their first vaccine or vaccination, they had the ability to do that,” BCPS Interim Superintendent Dr. Vickie Cartwright said in a recent press briefing.
Some community members agreed with SBBC’s tiered approach to mask mandates after vaccines were recently approved for children as young as five.
“As more and more people become fully vaccinated and COVID cases decrease, I don’t mind, slowly, reducing the restrictions of wearing masks, as long as everyone feels comfortable and safe,” middle school speech-language pathologist Cynthia Ortiz-Correa said.
During the meeting, vaccines were also addressed as elementary schools will be visited by medical professionals to provide vaccines for the newly allowed age group. These strategies were previously seen at high schools around the county. However, the SBBC denies any claims of requiring vaccines at the moment.
“I think that using the masks should be mandatory because not all students have the vaccine,” the parent of a Pioneer Middle School eighth grader Zulma Suarez said. “I understand maybe some parents agree with vaccines or might not but I believe that students should keep using the mask.”
In addition to vaccines, the steady decline in quarantining students has also been cited as a reason to lift the mandate. BCPS saw as many as 733 students quarantined on October 25, and it has fallen to only 484 today.
“I think it’s better if people have the vaccine they can not wear a mask and if they don’t have the vaccine they should,” Pioneer Middle School eighth grader Juan Calderon said. “But I think it should be mandatory for elementary.”
Illustration courtesy of Kamdyn Roher