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FLDOE asks districts to make face coverings optional for the 2021-22 school year

BY JENNIFER CABRERA

In a strongly-worded memo noting that face coverings are a “personal decision” and that “the data shows us that districts’ face covering policies do not impact the spread of the virus,” Florida Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran today asked school districts to make face masks voluntary for the 2021-22 school year.

In the memo, Corcoran noted that Florida has “consistently provided families with the ability to make educational decisions that are in the best interest of their children” and that “one-size-fits-all policies do not meet the unique needs of individual students or their families.”

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Corcoran uses mandatory face covering policies as an example of these one-size-fits-all policies and says that the data does not show that these mandates have any impact on the spread of the virus: “Upon reviewing the policies of those districts with mandatory face covering policies, reviewing all districts’ relevant health data, and factoring in such data points as the percentage of students learning in-person and the relative population of a county (which is often synonymous with a county’s community health resources), the data shows us that districts’ face covering policies do not impact the spread of the virus… Broad sweeping mandatory face covering policies serve no remaining good at this point in our schools” (emphasis in original).

The memo also discusses various harms of face coverings, stating that they “inhibit peer-to-peer learning in our classrooms and they may also unintentionally create a barrier for students and families who would otherwise choose in-person instructions if such a policy were not in place. Such policies may also impede instruction in certain cases, especially for students with disabilities and English language learners who benefit from viewing a teacher’s face and mouth” (emphasis in original).

Corcoran adds that “we expect more students to participate in face-to-face instruction” in the 2021-2022 school year and “we ask that districts, which currently are implementing a mandated face covering policy, revise their policy to be voluntary for the 2021-2022 school year” (emphasis in original).

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