[Opinion] Broward County’s new mask-optional policy puts the students and staff at major risk


Claire Piklor

Whether or not you wear a mask is now up to you. Broward County’s new optional mask mandate is putting teachers and students at risk . Vaccination status is not required to determine whether you wear a mask or not.

Julia Landy and Sofia Osio

On Tuesday, Oct. 26, Broward County Public Schools held a school board meeting that reevaluated the status of mask requirements for students, staff, security officers and other personnel on a BCPS campus.

Following an extensive debate, it was decided in a 5-3 vote that BCPS will institute a new mask-optional policy. In defiance of the CDC recommendations, every student, teacher, faculty member or person that steps foot onto any high school campus in Broward County was given the option to wear a mask starting Mon., Nov. 1.

As of Tuesday, Nov. 9, the school board voted to include elementary and middle schools in this new anti-mandate, effective beginning Saturday, Nov. 20. This colossal step leads us to believe that it is only a matter of time before COVID-19 shuts down schools once again, or even worse, cuts through the student population like a chainsaw through fresh jello: quick, messy and irreplicable.

Although some may see this new policy as a win for the student, faculty or parent populations of BCPS, several worry tremendously for the future of the in-person 2021-2022 school year and for the safety of those who step foot on campus. This new mandate is a seriously impulsive and absent-minded amendment to our schools safety procedures.

According to the World Health Organization, COVID-19 spreads more easily in locations having at least one of the following criteria: crowded areas, close-contact situations and enclosed spaces with poor ventilation.

With over 260,000 students enrolled in Broward County’s 328 schools, it is difficult, if not, impossible, for students to completely avoid crowded areas in most schools. “Close-contact situations” are described by the WHO as being situations where individuals are within a meter of each other for an extended period of time, which could certainly be a 60 to 90 minute class period.

The United States Environmental Protection Agency defines ventilation as being “the amount of outdoor air coming indoors.” In an indoor classroom setting, students and teachers have little to no exposure to outside air other than the few times when the door to the classroom is opened.

Despite the fact that schools perfectly fit all three criteria of what makes a situation ideal for the spread of COVID-19, BCPS has chosen to ignore the CDC’s recommendation to wear masks in places where it is impossible to avoid these situations.

As of now, the COVID-19 positivity rate for those in Broward stands at about 2.2 percent. Despite the wishes of the board, Interim Superintendent Vickie Cartwright intends to keep this new mask-optional policy in effect unless the positivity rate reaches beyond 5 percent.

What logic is there in removing masks as soon as the positivity rate lowers? Was this a “solution” to the decrease in cases? The actions taken by the district portrays the drop as an issue that needed to be solved- the alleged solution being the removal of masks.

Clearly, having a mask mandate in place is what led to the reduced transmission of COVID-19 in high schools, so what logic is there in removing it as soon as it shows positive results? Their actions are so irresponsible that it almost seems as if they had the goal of making their students and community as unsafe as possible. What’s next? Will the district vote masks as a violation to dress code?

This policy may be a sigh of relief to some but to most the lack of safety that comes with saying good riddance to masks, regardless of vaccination status, is still startlingly present in schools and public spaces. People need to consider the extremely contagious COVID-19 Delta variant and astronomically overcrowded schools in Broward County, such as Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

Since schools are not allowed to inquire about a student’s vaccination status, there is no way of determining whether it is truly “safe” for an individual to remove their mask. Unvaccinated students cannot be trusted to do the right thing, wearing a mask, without true enforcement or policy in place.

Not only is this new policy detrimental to the well being of student health, but also threatening to the health of the teacher and faculty’s children or family who may be too young for vaccinations, leaving them the most vulnerable to this policy.

A substantial number of students have grandparents or family members especially vulnerable to the virus who they are in frequent contact with. Even if a student chooses to wear a mask at school, they are still put at great risk of contracting the virus if they are surrounded by tumultuous crowds of unmasked, unvaccinated students.

Allowing students to attend school unmasked puts students who have contact with vulnerable people in a tough situation where, due to the partial inavailability and lower quality of online public school education, they have to choose between protecting their families or protecting their academic careers. No student should have to choose between the life of a family member and academic failure. This policy includes no option for students to protect their families and still see success in school.

As it is, several staff members with young children strongly urge their students to be even more conscious of COVID-19 prevention measures in their classrooms in fear of contracting and spreading this disease to their unvaccinated children. With this new policy in place, the health of students, their young siblings, staff’s children and other faculty is more than ever before at risk.

Without serious reform of this new policy to include vaccination requirements for those in school and of age to match, this pick-and-choose, hypocritical amendment to safety at school will continue to harm the lives of students and faculty members alike.