Duval schools new mask mandate begins today

The school district reported more than 1,900 coronavirus cases since the first day of school. For the next 90 days students must wear masks on buses and in the classrooms

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Duval County Public Schools’ new mask mandate begins today, requiring students to wear a face-covering unless they have a medical opt-out.

Last month, the school board approved the 90-day mask mandate for all students, whether they have been vaccinated or not, unless they get a note from a licensed health care provider. The signed certification form must say the student has a medical, physical or psychological condition that prevents them from wearing a face covering.

The mask mandate is set to expire on Dec. 6, two weeks before winter break, but Superintendent Dr. Diana Greene has the ability to extend it if necessary.

But she could also end the requirement early. During a school board meeting on Tuesday night, Greene is expected to discuss scenarios where the mask mandate could end before the 90 days if certain criteria are met.

Students are expected to wear their masks at all times with the exception of eating and during outdoor activities, but unlike last school year, students who do not follow the mask guidelines might be charged with a code of conduct infraction.

Here are the potential disciplinary consequences, according to DCPS:

1st occurrence

  • School will provide a face mask to the student
  • Student will complete “Face Mask Safety Contract with Mask Expectation” (requires student and parent signature)

2nd occurrence

  • Student sent to discipline office
  • Student coded for “1.06 Nonconformity to General Code of Appearance”
  • Parent contacted
  • Parent conference (virtual or in-person)

3rd occurrence

  • Student sent to discipline office
  • Student coded for “2.01 Failure to Adhere to Safety Consideration”
  • In-school suspension (1-2 days)

4th occurrence

  • Student sent to discipline office
  • Student coded for 2nd “2.01 Failure to Adhere to Safety Consideration”
  • Out-of-school suspension (1-3 days); Parent conference encouraged

The mandate begins as the district is locked in a fight with the state over the measure.

Last month, Florida Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran sent a warning saying that if the school district doesn’t drop its “illegal” mask mandate the state would slash funding in the form of school board salaries and possibly impose other sanctions. Although, a judge ruled against the DeSantis Administration, saying that he can’t punish districts for imposing mandates under the parents bill of rights. That ruling is being appealed.

In its response, the Duval County School Board said it chose to put the mandate in place after 11 school district employees died and more than 1,600 COVID-19 cases were reported in schools over the first three weeks. Three Duval schools have already had to temporarily shut down due to COVID-19 outbreaks including, most recently, Ed While High School.

VIDEO: What would it take for Duval County schools’ mask mandate to end early?

Superintendent Dr. Dianna Greene will present a plan for what benchmarks the community would need to hit for the mask mandate to be lifted.

Despite pushback from some parents, the district has said it has listened to doctors and health professionals who said mask mandates for students do work and can help slow the spread of the delta variant that has affected children more than the virus that circulated in schools last year. Still, 18 Duval county parents filed a lawsuit against the district over the mandate.

As of Friday, there were 1,960 total reported COVID-19 cases in Duval County Public Schools since classes resumed four weeks ago.

About the Authors:

Digital reporter who has lived in Jacksonville for more than 25 years and focuses on important local issues like education and the environment.

This native of the Big Apple joined the News4Jax team in July 2021.