Amid final stretch of 2020-21 school year, districts may change mask protocols after new CDC guidance

Schools
School entrance sign. Photo, CD Davidson-Hiers

Florida school districts are reconsidering mask protocols following an update this week from federal health officials saying residents fully vaccinated for COVID no longer have to wear masks in most indoor and outdoor settings.

School administrators are reviewing the details and some are considering whether to lift mask mandates just weeks before the final days of the 2020-21 school year.

Districts have had an array of mask approaches during the the COVID-19 pandemic. Some schools have already dropped mask mandates, while others  never adopted mandates in the first place.

Meanwhile, some districts have held on to their mask protocols and requirements, but are considering lifting them for the upcoming 2021-22 school year, whether that means teachers and staff, kids, or all of the above.

Orange County Publics Schools in central Florida are currently discussing the matter, the communication team told the Phoenix, but students are currently required to wear masks in school.

Alberto Carvalho, superintendent of Miami-Dade schools, said that his district is also convening soon to discuss the future of masks in the South Florida district, according to the Miami Herald.

The Tampa Bay Times reported that Hillsborough County schools will be reconsidering their policy on Tuesday, May 18.

Public schools across the state end in late May to mid June, depending on the district, so some districts may decide it’s too close to the end of the academic year to make a change.

Andrew Spar, president of the Florida Education Association, a statewide teacher union, suspects districts that still have mask protocols could opt to keep masks until the summer. He spoke about Volusia County, where he lives, saying that the school district will be meeting in late May to discuss masks, with the school year ending on June 4.

“I think continuing to the end of the year is not an unreasonable expectation,” Spar told the Phoenix.

The debate around masks and their effectiveness has been a reality since the COVID-19 pandemic started.

A month ago, Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran stirred up the conversation again, after sending a letter out to district superintendents asking them to consider removing mask protocols for the 2021-22 school year if they haven’t already. The letter received mixed reactions from school districts.

The issue of COVID vaccines play into the dilemma. Just this week, children aged 12-15 were newly approved to receive the two-shot Pfizer vaccine by federal entities. Before, Pfizer was restricted to those 16 and older, and it is the only COVID vaccine out of three used currently to have been approved for some minors. Children age 11 and younger have not yet been approved for any of the COVID vaccine options.

The new mask guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention only impacts fully vaccinated people, recommending that people who are not fully vaccinated “keep taking all precautions until you are fully vaccinated.”

And most K-12 students are not yet vaccinated.

But some parents are hesitant to let their child get the COVID vaccine at all. In Florida, students under 18 need parental consent to get the vaccine, meaning some students may never get vaccinated for COVID while they are minors.

Even if parents agree to get their child vaccinated, it takes several weeks for complete protection following the vaccine.

With some districts having their last day of school just around the corner, it is unlikely that a large percentage of students will be fully inoculated before the school year ends.