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Broward County relaxes mask mandate for high school students

Face masks will be optional at high schools in Broward starting Monday.

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – A Florida school district that had required masks for all students to slow the spread of COVID-19 decided Tuesday to relax its mandate for high school students.

The Broward County school board voted 5-3 to keep the district's mask mandate for elementary and middle school students, while masks will be optional, though highly recommended, for high school students starting next week.

Interim Superintendent Vickie Cartwright had recommended that masks be optional for all students as long as the positivity rate remained below 5%. But a majority of board members reasoned that only high school students, who are all old enough to receive the vaccine, should have the option to go maskless. The vaccine has been approved for children as young as 12, which would exclude most elementary and middle school students.

Broward was one of several Florida school districts to institute a mask mandate at the beginning of the school year, following a recommendation from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The action defied Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis’ ban on pandemic mask mandates in classrooms, which led to state education officials saying they would withhold funding from Broward and other school districts in an amount equal to a month’s pay for board members. President Joe Biden's administration has pledged to cover such sanctions with federal dollars.

Masks in schools have become one of the latest fronts in the partisan fight over coronavirus regulations. Like DeSantis, some other Republican governors have moved to ban mask mandates, though policies on face coverings, testing and quarantines in schools vary widely across the country.