Every school district in Florida that had been punished by the state for imposing a mask mandate that violated a statewide ban on them has now lifted its mask order as of this week, as schools across the country drop mask requirements in response to falling Covid-19 cases and vaccines becoming available for children ages five to 11.
Florida’s Miami-Dade, Broward and Alachua counties all dropped their mask orders this week, three of eight school districts that the Florida Department of Education voted to withhold funding from after they imposed strict mask mandates despite a state order prohibiting them.
Schools have cited falling cases and the fact children can now get vaccinated as reasons behind the changes, with Massachusetts requiring schools to only lift mask orders if 80% of the student population is inoculated.
Governors of some other states have started making plans to lift statewide mandates: New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy said the state may soon starting lifting its school mask orders in phases, for instance, while Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf said the state’s school mask mandate—which has since been struck down in court—would be lifted by January.
What To Watch For
The Florida Department of Education has not yet responded to a request for comment on whether funding will be restored to the Florida school districts now that their mask orders are lifted. The state has been withholding an amount of funds every month equivalent to the school board members’ salaries and any federal grants the district receives for their Covid-19 measures.
Not all states are getting rid of their mask mandates. Delaware extended their mask order this week through February, for instance, while Washington doubled down on their mask mandate to CNN. “We all recognize we want to be past this pandemic,” Washington Secretary of Health Dr. Umair Shah said, “but to keep [children] in school, it’s really up to us to make sure that we have as many precautions in place to help keep them safe and protected.”
Some public health experts have criticized the new wave of school mask orders being lifted. “I think we are jumping the gun a little bit,” Dr. Richina Bicette-McCain, an associate medical director at Baylor College of Medicine, told CNN. “We saw this happen in June over the summer when we declared the pandemic to be over a bit too early. We decided that those who are vaccinated need not wear masks, which turned into everyone not wearing masks and then subsequently the spike and the Delta wave followed.”
School mask mandates have been a significant matter of controversy this school year, resulting in litigation and outcries from both those in favor of and against mask wearing. At least 10 states have imposed school mask mandates and an additional 10 states have banned or restricted schools from imposing them, though many of those orders have since been blocked in court. Florida’s ban on school mask mandates has been among the most contentious, particularly as the state’s Covid-19 cases surged when the school year began and as the state stripped funding from school districts. The U.S. Department of Education is currently investigating Florida and other states banning mask mandates to determine if they’re illegally infringing on the rights of students with disabilities, and has also filed a complaint against the state over it withholding funding from schools that receive federal grants.
Last 3 Florida school districts drop student mask mandates (Associated Press)