Miami-Dade County Public Schools is easing mask mandates for high school and middle school students in the area, citing low rates of COVID-19 infections and hospitalizations in the community.
Superintendent Alberto Carvalho announced that these students will be able to opt out of wearing masks immediately. Relaxing the mask policy would give parents a non-participation ruling for their children.
The decision was based on the district meeting seven metrics established by a medical expert task force, including the rate of positivity in the community and the number of cases in schools.
“This shows that we are still an area that is guided by science, guided by data, not opinion,” Carvalho said.
Florida mandated that parents opt out at the beginning of the school year, but Miami-Dade, Broward County Public Schools and several other school districts have challenged the order.
“I know that no matter what we say or do, there will be controversy,” Carvalho said on Monday. “For this reason, amid so many opinions on a subject and issue that should be motivated solely by the expertise of medical entities and public health officials, we have made the decision, which this Council has fully endorsed, to follow the science.”
Parental opt-out was the original back-to-school plan in Miami. But the delta variant spread rapidly across Florida during the summer, causing a spike in cases, hospitalizations and deaths.
“We’ve improved significantly, we’ve listened to our health experts, which is why we’re relaxing these protocols,” Carvalho said.
The teachers’ union called the move a step in the right direction, but some teachers were still nervous.
“To be honest, you can’t disagree with the data, it seems like the cases are decreasing and the cases are decreasing,” said Andy Kearns, a professor of mathematics at the José Martí Mast Academy. The students have to keep wearing the mask in my class because I am immunocompromised.”
Carvalho believes the reason for the decline in COVID-19 cases in schools is directly related to the school board’s decision to challenge the state and make masks mandatory.
“The data inside schools is more relevant than the data outside of schools, and that tells you something,” he said. “It’s a protective environment, so I think we’ve proven something here.”
Even with the decision, elementary school children are still under the mask mandate, which means the area is still sanctioned by the state.