South Florida schools set for legal battle with state over mask mandate

The decision has been made. Face masks will be required in Miami-Dade County public schools — just like in Broward and Palm Beach counties.

So now these South Florida school boards face a legal battle with the state.

“Ultimately the decision that was made is the decision that was in the best interest of our students and our teachers,” Miami-Dade Superintendent Alberto Carvalho said.

The Miami-Dade school board voted 7-1 on Wednesday to approve the mask mandate that defies Gov. Ron DeSantis’ order against such requirements.

“If the reward is a threat I’ll wear it as a badge of honor,” said Carvalho, who pushed for the mask mandate.

Lubby Navarro was the lone school board member to vote against the mask requirement, and she asked the board’s attorney if the mandate is legal.

In his opinion, Walter J. Harvey wrote that it “is legally sufficient” and “does not conflict with state statutes, rules or case law.”

“Sometimes just because somebody is saying that you have to do something — and they’re a leader — doesn’t mean that you have to,” said Karla Hernandez-Mats, president of the Miami-Dade teachers’ union. “You have to look at the greater good.”

But the governor disagrees.

“This is not just something we’re making up,” DeSantis said. “This is what the state law says.”

“There will obviously be consequences in probably a number of different ways,” the governor added. “And at the of the day, you have local officials who do not believe they need to follow the law.”

On Thursday, Leon County Circuit Judge John C. Cooper refused to dismiss a lawsuit challenging the order by DeSantis that parents should decide if their children wear masks at school to combat the coronavirus. That clears the way for a three-day hearing next week on whether to block enforcement of the law.

DeSantis’ order bans schools from imposing mask mandates unless parents can opt out of the requirements.

Five Florida school districts — including four of the largest — are defying that order by permitting mask opt-outs only for medical reasons rather than parental choice.

On Tuesday, following recommendations from Florida Commissioner of Education Richard Corcoran, the state board of education voted to sanction the school boards in Broward and Alachua counties for defying DeSantis’ order. That was before Miami-Dade, the largest school district in the state, made its decision.

“You have 67 counties. You have to have a uniformed system,” Corcoran said.

Corcoran told Local 10 News on Wednesday that details on those sanctions would be released in the coming days.

By also voting for a mask requirement, Miami-Dade showed it is willing to take on that same fight, as is the school district in Palm Beach County, which removed an opt-out from its policy.

“To me, this is a simple decision regardless of consequences,” Carvalho said. “It’s actually a small price to pay if in fact there are consequences that are thrown our way.”

Miami-Dade said its policy isn’t intended to be permanent. The district will continue to evaluate the situation with COVID-19 to determine future steps.

Monday is the first day of school in Miami-Dade, and as that nears, some parents are embracing the mask policy while others remain concerned and confused.

Parent Amanda Prieto said she wants to know how learning will work when children inevitably go on quarantine.

“We heard yesterday that there will be a 10-day quarantine,” she said. “That’s a long time especially for young children to be out of school.”

Broward reported few issues Wednesday in its first day of the new school year with the mask rule in place.

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