The School Board of Alachua County (SBAC) voted in a special meeting Wednesday to fully comply with COVID-19 policies set by the Florida’s Department of Health (DOH) and Department of Education (DOE).
SBAC member Rob Hyatt called for the meeting on Tuesday as school districts in Miami-Dade and Broward counties eased their face mask protocols after seeing continued low positivity rates.
The SBAC voted on Nov. 2 to require medical opt-outs for K-8 students not wearing face masks through Dec. 6.
The DOH Emergency Rule 64DER21-15 requires that parents be able to opt-out their children.
The current positivity rate in Alachua County is 2 percent according to a county health department presentation to the Alachua County Board of County Commissioners on Tuesday.
The low rate was mentioned by Hyatt as he opened the meeting and offered a motion.
“I appreciate my colleagues for coming to the meeting,” Hyatt said in opening remarks.
It was Hyatt who proposed at last week’s regular meeting that he thought it was reasonable to extend a mask mandate through Dec. 6 for children ages 5 to 11 plus the middle school student population.
But on Wednesday, he acknowledged the pressure from the state and from lawsuits filed by parents.
With a hearing set for next week, SBAC attorney David Delaney said that falling into compliance now would make the hearing moot.
Before making a motion, Hyatt said he had experience battling the state in court in the past and he feared that the state would prevail again as it had in the past.
“We have basically no way forward in the courts, and I think it’s at that point in time to put this aside,” Hyatt said.
Hyatt pointed to the low COVID-19 case numbers and said ACPS is fortunate.
“We all know that could change,” he said, adding that the school district is in a “better position than we have been in quite a while.”
Hyatt’s initial motion was to move that the SBAC end the mask mandate and come into full compliance with the state.
The motion was seconded by SBAC member Mildred Russell who wanted to address the quarantine portion of the DOH emergency rule as well.
SBAC member Tina Certain offered an amendment after reading from the DOH rule that states a face mask mandate is permissible if it allows for a parent opt-out.
Certain asked for a parental opt-out for masking to be in place for elementary and middle schools until Dec. 17, with masks optional after students return from winter break on Jan. 4.
Hyatt agreed to the amendment but both SBAC members Dr. Gunnar Paulson and Russell dissented on the final vote stating that they preferred a simple motion to be worded as in “full compliance” with the state in order to avoid any potential legislation that might get passed next week during an emergency legislative session.
Paulson said he was worried that the special session could “do irreparable harm” with new policies evoked in response to school districts who held out for local control throughout the pandemic.
Russell urged the board to be “immediately in compliance” with no mask mandate and no quarantine of healthy students.
“Follow the DOH rule,” she said.
The final motion, which passed 3-2, continues a face mask mandate from Nov. 12 through Dec. 17 with parents able to opt out students.
Upon return from the winter break on Jan. 4, there will be no mandates for students except for the federal rule of wearing face masks on public transportation which still applies to school buses.