Alachua County Public Schools issued an announcement Thursday lifting its mask mandate in response to legislation passed during the state’s special legislative session.
According to district spokesperson Jackie Johnson, the district is doing well in regards to cases and quarantines, but if the district experiences a surge of cases, like with the delta variant, the district’s hands are tied under the new law.
“Even if there is an enormous surge and hospitalization rates go up and hospitals become crowded and death rates go up, doesn’t matter,” Johson said in a phone interview. “We don’t have the authority to establish mandates for masks or quarantines that could prevent the spread of COVID on our schools.”
According to the law, school districts must allow masks for students to be left to the sole discretion of the student’s parents and if a student is showing no symptoms, they cannot be forced to quarantine if exposed to someone who has tested positive.
The new law is not a part of the Parents’ Bill of Rights, which is what the state cited when attempting to ban mandates in the past.
According to Johnson, this means the districts cannot use a section in the Parents’ Bill of Rights allowing the district to override the state in cases of public health crises like the coronavirus.
Johnson says the district was expecting this legislation to pass, but its leaders are still disappointed.
“This does not come out as a surprise,” Johnson said. “But it is certainly very disappointing that important tools that our schools have for preventing the spread of covid among our students, our staff, families and really the broader community have been taken out of our hands, really more for political reasons than for public health reasons.”
She said the district is still committed to other mitigation strategies such as social distancing and purchasing more air purifiers for larger rooms in schools.
The district is also planning a clinic in early December in elementary and middle schools that will give parents the chance to have their children vaccinated.