MIAMI (CBSMiami) – The Miami-Dade County School Board has voted to implement a mask mandate for the start of the 2021-2022 school year.
Parents can opt out their child out with a doctor's note.
The move defies an order from Gov. Ron DeSantis that states the decision must be left up to parents.
United Teachers of Dade President Karla Hernandez-Mats released the following statement on the school board's vote:
"Today, we witnessed what democracy looks like despite being forced to withstand the vitriol of an anti-science group. With the recommendations of medical experts, the CDC, parents, community allies, students, support professionals, and teachers, we were able to ensure that safety prevailed. We salute Superintendent Alberto Carvalho, Dr. Marta Perez, Mrs. Perla Tabares-Hantman, Dr. Steve Gallon III, Mrs. Mari Tere Rojas, Mrs. Lucia Baez-Geller, and Ms. Luisa Santos for showing courage against threats and not allowing politics to enter and harm the safety of our school communities. We are excited about welcoming our students back into our classrooms while trying our best to keep them safe and helping them thrive through."
Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava also praised the move in a statement:
"Protecting our children must be a top priority as we continue to combat the serious threat of COVID-19. I applaud the Miami-Dade School Board and Superintendent Alberto Carvalho for following the science and putting the health and wellbeing of our children first. Wearing a mask is one of the simplest tools we have to stop the spread and protect the lives and livelihoods of those in our community – particularly for those not able to be vaccinated."
The seven-to-one vote came despite heat protest outside the meeting on Wednesday from people who both supported a mandate and opposed it.
"Unmask our kids, unmask our kids," were some of the chants outside the Miami-Dade School Board meeting. It was met with another chant, "Mask up! Mask up!"
Parents and members of the community rallied outside Wednesday's school board meeting as each side tried to get its point across.
"My kids are mine, my kids, after God they're my kids," said parent Dalila Rodriguez. "The school board or no one has parental authority to put a mandate, a mask, on my kids face," she said.
Rodriguez said when school starts Monday, her two children will be maskless.
"No! I'm not going to comply, my kids are not going to comply," she said.
Marika Lynch is pro mask. She rallied outside too.
"We're going to make sure that kids are required to wears masks in school on Monday," she vowed.
Lynch said her three kids will be masked to protect them and others.
"As a society, how many lives are we willing to risk. I'm not willing to risk any. Last year, everybody was perfectly safe with masks at schools. We need to do it until the numbers go down," she said.
Inside, emotions also ran high. More than a hundred people signed up to speak.
"Do not, under any circumstance violate Floridians constitutional freedoms, do not violate parents right under Florida law to make health care decisions for their minor children," said Alejandro Serrano, who's opposed to a mask mandate.
Francesca Charon is pro mask. She urged the district to have children mask up.
"I have a petition. You can see we have over 11,000 signatures. We the parents in favor of mask mandate are the majority on this matter," she said.
The decision ultimately rested with Miami-Dade County Public Schools Superintendent Alberto Carvalho.
He said the governor's order did not impact his decision.
"If the consequence is ultimately my job, my salary, I'm willing to accept that, but I'm not willing to bend on my conviction," Carvalho said.
A medical task force has already unanimously recommended a mask mandate for Florida's largest school district, which returns to class on Monday, August 23.
That panel consisted of six doctors and public health professionals who all agreed masks should be mandatory for students and staff, saying there is no gray area.
Carvalvo said he's not intimidated by state threats against school districts that have mask mandates.
"I've been poor, I've been homeless, I've been alone in the country since I was 17. Threats against my salary or my position do not factor one bit into the decision I will make. It is a small price to pay and what's at stake here is too important. We are talking about the health and well-being of our kids, of our teachers, of our principals. I do not know how to turn my back on the teacher who I spoke with this morning, whose mother is a teacher, as she was sobbing on the phone to me as her mom was about to be intubated," he said.
The medical task force reviewed the most recent Miami-Dade data, including the nearly 22,000 new cases over the last week, as well as a positivity rate of close to 20%.
The decision to institute a mask mandate goes against an executive order by Gov. Ron DeSantis aimed at blocking mandatory mask rules.
The State Board of Education on Tuesday threatened penalties against school officials in Alachua and Broward counties who require doctors' notes before students can opt out of mask requirements. The districts could face possible loss of funding, removal of local officials and further action from the state Legislature for requiring masks.
President Joe Biden called school district superintendents in Florida and Arizona last week to praise them for doing "the right thing" in defiance of executive orders from their governors. The Biden administration also promised federal money if DeSantis carries out a threat to withhold some state funds from districts imposing mask mandates.
Miami-Dade has the nation's fourth-largest school district with 334,000 students, while Broward is the sixth-largest district with 261,000 students.
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