All Alachua County Public Schools (ACPS) teachers are under a face mask mandate due to rapidly rising COVID-19 cases.
ACPS made the announcement in a Monday press release.
"Alachua County Public Schools will require indoor masking by all employees, vendors and visitors at district facilities," the release states. "The requirement will be in place regardless of vaccination status."
The mandate takes effect Tuesday and will last through Sept. 17. After that date, the district will reassess COVID-19 data in order to determine if the requirement will remain in place longer.
"Cases among ACPS employees have risen significantly over the last two weeks, and one individual passed away this past weekend due to COVID-related complications," according to the statement.
Superintendent Dr. Carlee Simon said she felt the situation demanded action.
“With rates as high as they are, I felt the district had to take action to reduce the spread of COVID in our community and schools,” she said. “The state has taken some options out of our hands, but this is something we can do to protect students and staff.”
A copy of Simon's email to employees is available online.
In her letter, Simon states that employees who are not fully vaccinated and have to take leave to quarantine due to exposure to COVID-19 or because they contract the virus, must tap into their personal leave to get paid for the time off.
"We also want you to know that for unvaccinated employees who have to be out due to COVID, either because they’ve tested positive or have had close contact with someone who has, the time off will now come from their own leave time," Simon wrote in the letter. "The district will only provide paid leave for fully vaccinated employees who are out due to COVID."
According to the SBAC's COVID-19 dashboard, 2,878 students and faculty were vaccinated in school clinics so far.
In the 2020-21 school year there were 746 student cases and 320 staff cases.
So far in July, the dashboard reports two students and four staff members have tested positive for COVID-19.
Last school year, Buchholz High School had the most cases with 135 (122 students and 13 staff) and Newberry High School 83 cases (69 students and 14 staff).
Once football season started, athletes and teams entered quarantine often and games throughout the region were canceled as cases increased.
On Tuesday, the SBAC will meet and approve the district's reopening plan. And part of that plan involved the use of face masks at school.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has preempted any face mask mandates by school districts by threatening to withhold and state funding for schools that require face masks.
The topic has dominated recent meetings with dozens of residents speaking both for and against face mask use in local schools.
In recent days an "Open Letter to the School Board of Alachua County" signed by three local physicians has been circulating and acquiring signatures.
"We, the undersigned, demand that the School Board of Alachua County make masks mandatory while indoors at all Alachua County Public Schools facilities for fall 2021," the letter states in the opening paragraph.
The letter says the science is clear: "Masks work when everyone wears them, masks are safe for adults and children over two, universal masking in schools is recommended by the AAP, CDC, WHO, and the District’s own School Health Advisory Council."
And the letter closes saying the district should act with courage and ethics.
"It is up to you to show our students that science speaks louder than threats, that safety matters more than politics, and that their lives matter," the letter states. "Follow the guidance of the District’s School Health Advisory Council, and make masks mandatory for all students, faculty, staff, and visitors in Alachua County Public Schools for fall 2021."
The letter cites 19 sources and is signed, "Sincerely, Sarah Rockwell, PhD, Cheryl Russell, David Kaplan, PhD, Jaana Gold, DDS, PhD, MPH, CPH, and Michael Haller, MD."