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Duval school board puts mask decision on hold due to 3 pending lawsuits

There was no change made to the mask mandate policy for Duval County Schools on Monday.
There was no change made to the mask mandate policy for Duval County Schools on Monday.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – There was no change made to the mask mandate policy for Duval County Schools on Monday.

During a meeting where the board was set to discuss the future of the mask requirement as cases fall in the district, members opted instead to postpone the talks due to three pending lawsuits.

The decision came after the board’s attorney advised that what happens in that discussion could affect how the case is handled in court. The lawyer wanted an opportunity for them to get on the same page with the board members about the legal strategy.

Superintendent Dr. Diana Greene said last week that the rolling average of COVID-19 positivity rates in the community is in the “moderate level,” but the number of cases per 100,000 residents is still falling in the “high” category. Therefore, under the current policy, the district can’t lift its mask mandate.

But that decision was set to be up for debate Monday.

At the start of the workshop, Greene showed mathematical predictions that anticipate the district’s COVID-19 transmission risk reaching the “moderate” stage by the end of October.

As of Friday’s coronavirus report from the Florida Department of Health, Duval County’s infection rate was 90.4 per 100,000 and the positivity rate was down to 5.3%. The school district’s goal was to drop the controversial mask requirement when the rate drops below 50 per 100,000 and the percentage of positive tests was below 8%.

The board wanted to have a special meeting to be transparent with the public and give people the opportunity to voice their concerns. The board still allowed public comment during the meeting.

RELATED: State votes to sanction Duval, 7 other Florida school districts over mask mandates

This comes after several board members said they received complaints from the public about the mask mandate, especially since there has been a drop in COVID-19 cases in the community.

The school board attorney said that it would be up to Greene to decide whether to make any adjustments “using her authority.”

Duval County on Thursday joined Alachua, Broward, Leon, Miami-Dade and Leon counties in filing a challenge of the state’s emergency rule on masks with the state’s Division of Administrative Hearings. The districts claim that the Flordia Department of Health only has the power to set health policy and its rule banning mask mandates doesn’t mention health policy, only addresses protecting parental rights.

On Monday morning, a committee of board members met to continue work on the district’s permanent policy for handling communicable diseases.

The aim is for there to be a set policy to deal with the next pandemic without using so much emergency rulemaking.

That policy is still being worked out and the board will have to approve it before it goes into effect.

About the Authors:

Reports weeknights for The Ten O'Clock News and News4Jax at 11.

Joe covers education and breaking news. He is a frequent contributor to the News4Jax I-team and Trust Index coverage.