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Duval County School Board to hold emergency meeting on district’s mask policy

Could Duval County tighten up its mask mandate opt-out rules or make other changes after the district has reported nearly 600 new infections after less than two weeks of classes..

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The Duval County School Board will hold an emergency meeting at 2 p.m. Monday to discuss COVID-19 mitigation measures.

Monday’s meeting was announced after board member Darryl Willie asked for the emergency board meeting. In a letter sent to Superintendent Dr. Diana Greene and board chair Elizabeth Andersen, Willie said it’s time to reevaluate the mask policy for students, citing increasing cases inside schools.

“To date, we have a quarter of the cases (in 2 weeks) that we had the entire 2020-21 school year,” Willie wrote in the letter. “Our students and employees are becoming sick with a life-threatening virus, and an emergency meeting is needed to discuss this data and alter or change any policy that could help mitigate these cases.”

The Duval County Schools COVID-19 dashboard shows 503 student cases of COVID-19 and 86 staff cases. The majority of student cases are in elementary schools.

The district’s current policy strongly recommends masks, but allows an opt-out option for those who don’t want to wear one. At the start of the school year, more than 4,700 students or their parents took the opt out.

The policy falls-in line with an order put in place by Governor Ron DeSantis in which he banned mask mandates that do not allow an opt out option or require a doctor’s note to opt out.

“We do know though there are harmful effects of kids not being able to breathe, see facial expressions,” DeSantis said in a previous news conference. “Clearly this is something for the parents to do. For schools to come in and overrule parents’ rights and force masks on kindergartners, first graders, second graders -- that’s a massive overreach.”

We asked News4Jax viewers what they wanted to see come from Monday’s meeting.

Do you think the Duval County school board should get rid of the option for students to opt out of its mask mandate?

Posted by WJXT4 The Local Station / News4JAX on Sunday, August 22, 2021

One commenter wrote, “please vote yes to masks.” Another wrote, “Let parents’ parent. Not the board.”

People on both sides of the issue are expected to rally outside the Duval County Public Schools building as well. The Northside Coalition of Jacksonville said it plans to hold a news conference before the board’s meeting at 2. It supports a mask mandate in schools.

Elsewhere in Florida, the Leon County superintendent announced Sunday that masks will be required for students in prekindergarten through eighth grade, becoming the seventh district to defy Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ ban on such COVID-19 mandates, The Associated Press reported.

The other districts that have imposed strict mask mandates are in Miami-Dade, Broward, Palm Beach, Hillsborough, Alachua and Sarasota counties.

About the Authors:

A Florida girl and North Carolina A&T SU grad who thrives in breaking news.