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News about coronavirus in Florida and around the world is constantly emerging. It's hard to stay on top of it all but Health News Florida can help. Our responsibility is to keep you informed, and to help discern what’s important for your family as you make what could be life-saving decisions.

Florida Education Chief: Masks Should Be Voluntary In Schools

Florida Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran speaks during an October press conference at Bayview Elementary School in Fort Lauderdale where he and Gov. Ron DeSantis, left, announced a plan to raise the minimum starting salary for teachers.
Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran asked school superintendents to revise district mask policies, if they have one, to be voluntary instead of mandatory.

Commissioner Richard Corcoran's memo to superintendents lists reasons he wants districts to address mask policies for the 2021-22 school year.

Florida’s education commissioner has told school superintendents that masks in schools should be optional.

Richard Corcoran sent the memo Wednesday, saying that policies requiring face masks create a barrier for families who would otherwise send their kids to school.

“The data shows us that districts’ face covering policies do not impact the spread of the virus,” Corcoran wrote in the memo, which you can download here. “Such policies may also impede instruction in certain cases, especially for students with disabilities and English language learners who benefit from seeing a teacher’s face and mouth.”

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says physical distancing and universal masking are the keys to safe, in-person schooling.

Teachers union officials say the only way to safely and successfully reopen schools is by following CDC guidelines, and that includes masks.

Wendy Doromal, president of the Orange County Classroom Teachers Associations, a teachers’ union, said it’s “irresponsible and premature” to lift mask mandates in schools.

“We believe health and safety and human life come before economic and political agendas,” Doromal said.

It’s not yet clear which school boards will make masks optional in response. But Orange County Public Schools said it will consider it.

“We have received the face-mask policy information and recommendation from Commissioner Corcoran,” Orange County Public Schools wrote in a statement to WMFE. “Our school board and administration will use the recommendation along with the guidance of local expertise to evaluate the face-mask policy as the new school year approaches.”

Earlier this month, Pasco County schools Superintendent Kurt Browning told the school board that once Gov. Ron DeSantis' order declaring a state of emergency over, mask-wearing will be optional.

Palm Beach County school leaders say they will continue to heed CDC guidelines and have no plans to eliminate their requirements, the Palm Beach Post reports.

In Florida, nearly 250,000 have tested positive for COVID-19 and eleven have died. And another 167 children in Florida have gotten what’s called multi-system inflammatory condition, or MIS-C, a serious condition associated with COVID-19 that can be deadly.

Health News Florida reporter Abe Aboraya works for WMFE in Orlando. He started writing for newspapers in high school. After graduating from the University of Central Florida in 2007, he spent a year traveling and working as a freelance reporter for the Seattle Times and the Seattle Weekly, and working for local news websites in the San Francisco Bay area. Most recently Abe worked as a reporter for the Orlando Business Journal. He comes from a family of health care workers.