Florida School Mask Policies


Emily Thomas, Opinion Editor

Emily Thomas, Opinion Editor


“Instead of viewing masks as an outlet to express hatred to any one given political party, we should instead see masks as a way of showing that we care about others and respect the needs of our more at risk peers.”

      In March of 2020, the United States shut down in panic. Over a year and some six-hundred-thousand deaths later, we seem to have forgotten all the lives lost and all of the tremendous efforts made to eradicate COVID-19. While there are many benefits to in-person learning, the lack of precautions against COVID-19 in many Florida schools has turned what should be a safe place for children to learn and grow, into a germ pool, where students can only rely on trust that their classmates aren’t carrying the highly infectious Delta variant.  

      Last school year, students had the option of returning back to the classroom after having to finish the previous final quarter of school remotely; the only requirement — students must wear masks during class. Given the absence of vaccinations at the time, this was certainly the smart decision. Based on the assumption that COVID was finally dying down for good and that school aged children are not the ones spreading the virus, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis made an executive decision on July 31, 2021, that parents- not the school district-  would be allowed to make the decision on whether their children would be wearing masks to school or not. Although vaccines are now plentily available, and high schoolers and most middle schoolers are eligible to receive them, wearing masks in school still needs to be mandated. This is especially important now that most cases are due to the Delta variant, which is more than two times as contagious as the original strain of COVID-19.  

      When the release of the COVID-19 vaccines was new, many Americans raced to the opportunity in hopes of keeping the virus at a low and to make mask-wearing a thing of the past. Among those Americans who are eligible to receive one of the three COVID-19 vaccines, under 60% of Americans are fully vaccinated. In Santa Rosa county, this number is significantly lower than the U.S. and Florida (~53%) averages, with only about 39% of people in our county fully vaccinated. If the number of vaccinated people in the state and county were higher, the need for masks might not be as dire. However, considering the breakthrough cases of vaccinated people contracting the virus plus the fact that all elementary students are unvaccinated, masks are still needed in schools to limit the spread.  

      Contrary to DeSantis’s executive order, claiming that children are “at a low risk of contracting a serious illness due to COVID-19 and do not play a significant role in the spread of the virus,” more recent studies have proven that positive COVID-19 cases among children under 12 are steadily on the rise. According to NBC 6 in South Florida, “more than 26,000 children under 12 tested positive for the week [of Aug. 27], a 30% increase over the previous week’s tally. They make up 17.5% of the 151,749 new cases in the last week.” Because it is evident that a lack of masking in schools is causing a spike in recent cases, I think a revaluation of policy is necessary.  

      Though Gov. DeSantis made it clear that counties that defy the order and mandate masks in school will lose funding, his negligence in protecting children has led many Florida school districts to mandate masks anyway. So far, the counties that require some form of a mask mandate include Orange, Indian River, Boward, Alachua, Duval, Hillsborough, Leon, Miami-Dade, Sarasota and Palm-Beach counties. While it is highly unlikely that Gulf Breeze High School would risk losing its funding in order to require masks, the school has not taken other avenues to ensure safety among students, despite restrictions. For example, GBHS claims that wearing a mask is “highly recommended.” However, one has to search very hard to find any evidence of the school encouraging mask wearing. If the school really cared about our safety, they would make more public announcements to parents and students explaining the benefits of mask wearing and encouraging it among staff and students.  

      Sure it may seem right for a parent to have the ultimate say over whether their child should have to wear a mask. But when it comes to thinking beyond one’s own want to wear a mask, and being considerate of other classmates and their family members that might have underlying health conditions, Gulf Breeze generally seems to lack an overall empathy for other people’s struggles as well as a lack of commitment to community health. Because of many people’s apparent lack of compassion and awareness, many of the aforementioned counties have found it necessary to make masks mandatory in order to protect the greater whole.  

      Instead of viewing masks as an outlet to express hatred to any one given political party, we should instead see masks as a way of showing that we care about others and respect the needs of our more at risk peers. It seems ridiculous that we should have to consider caring for one another mandatory; but if mandating masks is what it takes for our community to start thinking of others beyond ourselves, I believe it is absolutely necessary.