FORT LAUDERDALE (CBSMiami) - The Broward County School Board has voted 8-1 to implement the rules set out by the state's health and education departments but will require masks for the new school year which begins August 18th.
The Board approved filing a legal action to challenge the state's ban on a mask mandate.
School Board Chair Dr. Rosalind Osgood said she did not want to play Russian roulette with children's lives.
There will be a medical opt-out for students or staff with legitimate reasons.
Broward Teachers Union President Anna Fusco applauded the School Board's decision to keep a mask mandate in place for students and employees.
"Wearing masks inside schools regardless of vaccine status is required to deal with the changing realities of virus transmission. It is a necessary precaution until children under 12 can receive a COVID-19 vaccination and more Americans 12 and older get vaccinated," she said in a statement. ""We continue to be concerned about this variant, but our No. 1 priority remains a safe in-person school year in schools that can stay open. Given the new evidence, that means requiring everyone in school buildings to wear masks. We are thankful that the Broward School Board agrees with CDC and American Academy of Pediatrics guidance."
State Senator Gary Farmer also applauded the School Board's decision.
"I want to thank the members of the Broward County School Board for taking the brave action that was absolutely necessary to protect our children, teachers, faculty, staff and their families from the very real threat of COVID-19. I believe that every person in our school system should strive to be an example for the students that they serve. By standing up to the bully in the Governor's Mansion like they did today, the Broward County School Board set a shining example for our kids," he said in a statement.
The School Board voted unanimously about two weeks ago to make masks mandatory in school, until at least after Labor Day. The decision came after hours of contentious debate that included a screaming match from angry anti-mask parents who set fire to masks and held picket signs outside.
The board reversed course after Gov. Ron DeSantis said districts that mandate masks may face losing funding. The governor office later clarified and said the state's Board of Education could move to withhold the superintendent's or school board members' salaries if they defy his Executive Order prohibiting mask mandates.
Osgood told CBS4's Peter D'Oench, "We took an oath to protect the citizens of Broward County. We feel masks must be worn in close quarters where people are gathering and they can not social distance."
School Board members said they were following the order of the State Board of Education and Health with one exception. Students can opt of wearing masks if they have a valid medical reason. The School Board also told their legal team to prepare for legal challenges from the state.
State officials had threatened to withhold the salaries of School Superintendents and School Board members who went against the Governor's executive order. The Governor had also said he would withhold funds from school districts that require students to wear masks.
Osgood said, "We hope that the federal government will come to our aid. I know if I don't get paid I know my community is very resilient. People's lives are invaluable, even if it means to me that I am not going to receive a paycheck."
Interim Schools Superintendent Vickie Cartwright said it was not clear what the financial implications would be and she said any actions taken by the state could be detrimental.
She said, "The decision the School Board took today was not one they took lightly. Yes, they understand that their salaries, my salary might be taken from us."
The volatile issue prompted an argument outside Broward School Board headquarters as people on both sides shouted at each other. "Our kids, our choice," one man chanted. Another woman said, "Why does any parent not have the right to unmask their child."
Inside at the Broward School Board hearing, student Sebastian Godoy said, "If we don't have this mandate more people will die. I can die if people do not have their masks on. The COVID cases are skyrocketing. The COVID cases are more infectious because of the Delta variant."
Melanie Wilpon, a mother of four children, said, "I am just asking you as a special needs mother, please I am asking you to do what in your heart right. Don't let this man bully you."
Fusco said, "We know the Governor has been elected. He is trying to put through bully tactics to scare Florida Superintendents and school board members."
Some spoke out against face masks.
One parent said, "My daughter will show up at school on the first day of school without a mask and she will have an opt-out form. I am tired of the School Board dictating how to raise my children."
Another parent said "I do not feel comfortable with my son having to go into school and wearing a mask every day 5 days a week. That's not very healthy for children to do because the bacteria collects on the mask."
Before Tuesday's meeting, parents against their children wearing masks in school rallied outside the School Board's headquarters.
When the meeting got underway parents and students from both sides of the debate voiced their concerns.
"During this pandemic, my children have displayed more maturity and compassion, as well as a better understanding of our immune system, than our governor. They know that their mask protects others and other people's masks protect them. I just want to ask you what message does it send if we don't have the mask mandate, and they see people walking around unmasked around them," said a parent.
"I'm just asking you to please, as a mother, a special needs mother, please just do what you know in your heart is right. Don't let this man bully you. We stand behind you guys. We fully trust you and we stand behind you, don't let this man bully you. I ask you and I beg you to please keep our children safe," said another parent.
But not all were in favor of having their children wear masks in school.
"I don't feel comfortable with my son having to go into school and having to wear a mask the entire day, five days a week. I don't think that's very healthy for children to do that. The bacteria that collects in the mass, as we know, as we exhale, we're exhaling, it's one way that our body detoxes is to breathe out through the lungs, bacteria collects in the mask and the children breathe that back in. That's not a healthy thing to do," said a parent.
During a stop in Surfside Tuesday morning, DeSantis reiterated that it's a parent's right to decide if their child wears a mask in school.
"We think this is something that intimately affects the health and well-being of young kids. We've had a whole year to watch how this has developed in Florida, in the United States, and throughout the world. I can tell you in Florida, we had school districts that mandated it last year, others that didn't, same with private and charter (schools), and there was no statistical difference," said DeSantis.
The governor pointed to a study by Emily Oster Brown University that looked at Florida, New York, and Massachusetts. He said it found no correlation to force masking in differences in cases.
"You also have a situation where a lot of parents have comes to me, have come to their school boards, and said this has been very difficult on their young kids, to have to sit there for eight hours with this. It's not natural," said DeSantis.
Tuesday's meeting is being held on Superintendent Robert Runcie's last day.
Cartwright has been encouraging parents to reach out to both their state legislators and the governor's office with their concerns.
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