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Duval schools ‘strongly recommends’ masks for unvaccinated students

Concerns over masks in school
Concerns over masks in school

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – As cases of COVID-19 continue to rise, Duval County Public Schools on Wednesday said it strongly recommends that unvaccinated students wear masks when the 2021-22 school year begins in August.

“Students will not be required to wear masks,” the district said, adding they are optional for the school day as well as school-related events like bus transportation.

Mask exceptions will be made for unvaccinated students with medical or developmental conditions, the district said.

While the district technically upgraded its mask policy from having them be optional to strongly recommended, several parents News4Jax heard from Wednesday said that move doesn’t really make a difference.

It’s causing some parents to reconsider their options which, they have fewer of than last year.

“It’s kind of a surprise,” said Wei Chen, parent of a DCPS student. “Because I saw last year they were doing so good with the mask policy and I felt comfortable to send them back this year, but they dropped the policy. So I’m kind of really, really worried.”

The district follows other area school districts like Clay and St. Johns counties in making masks optional.

But, DCPS said if the Florida Department of Education, the Florida Department of Health or the city changes its coronavirus protocols, the district will comply.

Currently, only students 12 and older are eligible to receive the vaccine.

The district added that it will provide details in the near future about registration options for Duval Virtual Instruction Academy.

The district is also ending temperature checks, discontinuing the use of desk shields and ending the use of Duval HomeRoom, the district’s school-based distance learning platform. Full-time virtual school offerings will be expanded to include an asynchronous learning option for elementary students through DVIA.

As of Wednesday, there are 1,480 students enrolled in DVIA, but the conflict for many families is that enrolling in DVIA would cause them to forfeit their student’s spot in magnet programs.

The district said it will be releasing some new information about DVIA enrollment in the near future so, there may be some changes coming.

Chen said she would enroll her son in the virtual format Duval HomeRoom, but it’s no longer being offered this year.

Her son Jeremy, who is too young to be vaccinated, is headed into second grade. He said while the mask can be a drag to wear, he’ll have it on when he heads to class.

Kathrine Wonnell is also feeling uneasy about her child who is about to enter kindergarten.

“I’m just concerned with how I can ensure my five-year-old will wear her mask when her peers or maybe even her teacher is not,” Wonnell said.

Wonnell is also a teacher who is fully vaccinated and said she’ll be wearing a mask in class.

Wonnell and other parents News4Jax spoke to said misinformation is the likely root cause of the pushback against masks is misinformation.

“I think it’s a lot of maybe politics or a lot of pushback from parents,” Wonnell said.

The American Academy of Pediatrics issued new recommendations that everyone over 2-years-old wears a mask in schools settings vaccinated or not.

The Florida Department of Education objected, citing data from last school year that showed that the districts with and without mask mandates had similar COVID-19 positivity rates.

The problem with that is, that’s all from before the delta variant became the dominant strain and began spreading much more rapidly.

News4Jax also learned more about the spread of the virus during summer activities in St. Johns County.

On Wednesday, the district said 45 employees are currently positive for the virus and another 22 are under quarantine. Nine students also tested positive for the virus and 91 are quarantined.

Although, a district spokesperson said that number has been higher at different points during the summer as entire classes of students were sent home from reading camp and summer athletics.


About the Author:

McLean is a reporter with WJXT, covering education and breaking news. He is a frequent contributor to the News4Jax I-team and Trust Index coverage.