Few school districts still have mask mandates, and Duval's could end next
Duval, Palm Beach and Miami-Dade counties are the only Florida school districts holding onto districtwide mask mandates, but Duval's could come to an end soon.
A number of districts have eliminated their mask requirements as COVID cases have declined and the Florida Board of Education has stepped up its financial pressure.
According to Duval County Schools’ policy, the mask mandate “will be immediately suspended” when the countywide COVID testing positivity rate is less than 8% and the COVID rate falls to 50 cases per 100,000 people, as shown on the Florida Department of Health’s weekly COVID data report.
The department's latest report is expected Friday evening, and Duval County is teetering on the edge of the threshold to lift its mask mandate starting Monday. The most recent report showed a testing positivity rate of 3.7% and 53 cases per 100,000 people.
Duval County Schools said in a statement Friday that it would provide further details about COVID mitigation policies once the district reaches the threshold for lifting its mandate.
“I’ll be able to address these questions once we get to the point of reaching those community transmission milestones,” spokesperson Tracy Pierce said in an email. “Stand by.”
The state this month has withheld school board member salaries from eight districts for defying a Department of Health rule that gives parents the right to decide whether their children wear masks or quarantine after exposure to COVID. The state has withheld $26,770 from Duval Schools thus far.
Three of those counties — Orange, Leon and Brevard counties — came into compliance this week, according to the News Services of Florida. Two other counties, Alachua and Broward, are letting parents of high school students opt their kids out of wearing masks.
Attorneys representing the state and five districts, including Duval, are set to file petitions Friday outlining how they think a Tallahassee judge should rule in a legal challenge to the Health Department's authority to issue a rule about parental choice in the first place. The Tallahassee judge said he will rule Nov. 5.
The districts’ case is still relevant, even if most of the districts have lifted their mandates, according to the districts’ lawyer, Jamie Alan Cole.
“It doesn't really have an impact from a legal standpoint,” Cole said. “Unfortunately, COVID-19 is not the kind of thing that just ends. This is going to go on for a while and there could be more surges and we need to be in a situation where we know what the rules are if it happens again.”
The Florida Department of Health argued that it passed the emergency rule, in part, because quarantines could hamper the education of students exposed to COVID.
COVID case rates have been steadily falling at Duval County Schools, with just 33 new cases reported this week, according to the district’s COVID dashboard.