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Broward Public School Students Mask Up For First Day Of School

FORT LAUDERDALE (CBSMiami) - The summer break is over and it's time to hit the books again for Broward public school students.

"We are so excited to have you coming in today. We're here for you, we're welcoming you with open arms, and have a great first day of school," said Broward's interim Superintendent Dr. Vickie L. Cartwright.

As they return to the classroom, they do so under a mask mandate.

The first day of school comes as the state's Board of Education voted in favor of penalizing the Broward and Alachua school districts for imposing their mask mandates.

"We certainly hope that there are not going to be financial sanctions. Because we know that any time that occurs, that's money that typically would be designated for our students. So that is something that we do take into consideration. But I will go back to it again, and you've heard me say this before, the guiding principle for me is "students first" and no amount of money that is out there is going to be something that is worth the potential risk of a life," said Cartwright.

"Florida is a big state and we need the discretion to act accordingly," she added.

Under Broward's policy, masks are mandatory for students, staff, and visitors at all district schools and facilities, including school buses. There is standard seating capacity on the buses.

Parents can request to opt out due to medical conditions or provisions in their individual education plan, typically used for special needs students.

Masks will no be required outside.

When possible, a distance of three to six feet will be maintained between students in classrooms, hallways, and indoor common spaces.

There will be two nurses per school and voluntary COVID-19 tests will also be offered at all schools.

If a student, teacher, or staff member is sick, they're urged to stay home.

At Driftwood Elementary School, Kelly Harmon said she's been waiting on this day since May 2020. She admits she's a little nervous sending her kids off to school, two in kindergarten and one in third grade.

"I'm worried about the virus, worried about them bringing it home, I'm hoping that they don't get sick," she said.

Apollo Middle School science teacher Diana Dworzan welcomed a group of anxious sixth graders.

"They're so nervous, you can see it in their faces. This is the room where everybody comes in and they go 'ahhh', so I'm gonna want to continue that," she said.

Cypress Bay High School students Roya Rostamian and Summer Kauffman said they were ready to get back.

"We missed our routine that we had going on and we missed our teachers and being in person," said Rostamian.

"And we're just ready to be back to some sort of a routine," said Kauffman.

Not all students were in agreement.

"I'm not really excited to be here, I miss home and I don't like masks," said Allessandro Digeronio.

The mask issue had been contentious leading up to the opening bell. According to the school district, out of more than 257,000 returning students, 200 were given mask exemptions.

Wednesday is also the first day of school for Archdiocese of Miami students, and like Broward public schools, masks are required.

Masks will be required indoors for those who are unvaccinated, including staff, teachers, and children under 12, who are not yet eligible for the vaccine. Older students and adults will have the option of not wearing masks if they show proof that they are vaccinated, as long as social distancing of 3 to 6 feet or more can be maintained.

"We feel this is a morally and medically correct policy," said Jim Rigg, the archdiocese's new superintendent of schools and secretary for education, in a statement.

Masks will not be required while children and teachers are outdoors or during vigorous exercise.

This policy will remain in effect through at least August 31st.

Despite surging COVID numbers and hospitalizations, Governor Ron DeSantis has stood firm in his opposition to school mask mandates.

Broward's face off with DeSantis was not lost on the Biden administration.

Last week, U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona said it stands with "Florida educators who are making the tough yet important decisions to protect the health and safety of all students and staff," elaborating that the department will "do everything in our power to provide a safe environment for our students and staff to thrive."

Cardona went on to say that any penalties the DeSantis administration imposes against schools could be replaced by federal relief funds.

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