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Florida's largest school district approves mask mandate for students

Florida's largest school district, Miami-Dade County, voted 7-1 to approve a mandate requiring students to wear masks indoors at schools unless they receive a medical exemption. File Photo by John Angelillo/UPI | <a href="/News_Photos/lp/0dd8230c1cb46723d3b667a85f7c418c/" target="_blank">License Photo</a>
Florida's largest school district, Miami-Dade County, voted 7-1 to approve a mandate requiring students to wear masks indoors at schools unless they receive a medical exemption. File Photo by John Angelillo/UPI | License Photo

Aug. 18 (UPI) -- Miami-Dade County, home to Florida's largest school district, voted Wednesday to approve a mandate requiring students to wear masks at school.

Under the rule, masks will be required for all students, teachers, staff, visitors and volunteers in all indoor areas and school buses but will not be required for outdoor activities, such as sports and physical education classes.

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Only children who receive a medical exemption from a licensed physician in the state will be able to opt out of the mandate.

The school board voted 7-1 to approve the mandate as Superintendent Alberto Carvalho told the State Board of Education earlier in the day he was prepared to face the consequences of defying an order by Gov. Ron DeSantis barring school districts from requiring masks.

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"For the consequences associated with doing the right thing, whatever that right thing is, I will wear proudly as a badge of honor," Carvalho said. "I'm going to leave here today and go to my own school board meeting and I'm going to do that, which is right, rightfully righteous."

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Board members cited the presence of the highly contagious Delta variant in supporting their decision to vote in favor of the mandate.

"The tens of thousands of people testing positive for COVID and the people that have died, including a 13-year-old, are depending on us to stand, to speak, to lead and to vote in a manner that does not capitulate to political pressures but relies on the empirical, scientific evidence and advice that should guide our decision making on this medically driven problem and rest on a medically driven, scientific-based solution," School Board Vice Chair Steve Gallon III said.

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Board member Lubby Navarro voted against the mandate, stating it violates state law by not allowing parents to opt out.

Hillsborough County Public Schools, which includes Tampa, also voted 5-2 to approve a similar mask mandate.

Lynn Gray, the school board chair, said "we must act, and act now" after reporting a surge earlier this week, which had led to 1,400 positive tests among students and 10,000 isolations.

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DeSantis representative Christina Pushaw issued a statement to CNN noting that the mandate was in defiance of the state's laws.

"No politician is above the law," said Pushaw. "The legislature passed the parents' bill of rights and Gov. DeSantis signed it into law. Forced masking of all schoolchildren is not consistent with protecting parents' rights to make health and education decisions for their own children."

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On Tuesday, Florida's Board of Education voted unanimously that mask mandates in Broward and Alachua counties violate state law and granted Florida Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran permission to investigate the districts and impose penalties, such as withholding funds, salaries, removing officers and reviewing conduct including how money is being spent for public relations or other political activities.

President Joe Biden on Wednesday directed Education Secretary Miguel Cardona to "assess all available tools" to ensure governors and other officials take the necessary steps to safely prepare students to return to school "including not standing in the way of local leaders making such preparations."

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