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The South Florida Roundup

Masks In Broward Schools, Broward's Building Recertification Backlog And An Update On Haiti

A group of mask opponents speak outside a Broward County School Board meeting on Wednesday.
Carline Jean/South Florida Sun Sentinel
A group of mask opponents speak outside a Broward County School Board meeting on Wednesday.

The new school year is right around the corner for two South Florida public school districts. Palm Beach public school students return Tuesday, Aug. 10. Students in the Florida Keys return to their classrooms Thursday, Aug. 13. They can wear masks if they want, but they are not required to.

Miami-Dade is reviewing its masks-optional policy.

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In Broward County, students are currently required to wear masks. The Broward School Board was the first in the state to issue a mask mandate.

It resulted in Gov. Ron DeSantis issuing an executive order a week ago, effectively prohibiting schools from requiring students to wear masks. After the order was released, Broward schools released a statement saying it would follow state law.

One day later, the district released another statement that said it was waiting for more guidance, and its mask requirement remained in place.

Sarah Leonardi represents District 3 on the Broward School Board. She said the board was waiting for guidance from the state Department of Education before deciding whether or not to follow through with their current mask requirement for students.

The DOE approved two emergency rules Friday, about one hour before Leonardi spoke to WLRN. One rule allows public school students to get a state scholarship for private school if they’re facing bullying for wearing, or not wearing, masks. The other rule allows students who are quarantined to be counted as present in school.

“In the interest of public safety and the health of our students and employees, I think masks should be required,” said Leonardi. “Now, we got those rules from the Department of Health and the DOE less than an hour ago, so I still am kind of getting into that information and seeking legal counsel around that.”

The Broward School Board is due to talk about its rule next Tuesday, Aug. 10. Leonardi said she is unsure what the board will be asked to consider.

Building Safety

The Champlain Towers South condo collapse got condo owners and municipalities thinking about building safety recertification in a way that they may have taken for granted before the tragedy.

Miami-Dade and Broward counties have 40-year recertification requirements for all buildings, except single family homes and duplexes.

The South Florida Sun Sentinel analyzed the recertifications of older condo buildings in Broward County and found that only one-in-five buildings were re-certified as safe.

Investigative reporter Brittany Wallman was part of the team that did the analysis. She said Broward County started its building recertification program in 2006, three decades after Miami-Dade instituted its own program.

Wallman said the team reviewed property records to get an idea of where buildings stood on their recertification process.

“You always kind of expect a government program to not be perfect,” said Wallman. “But this was much more abysmal than we would have expected.”

The team of reporters found that many cities had failed to deliver notices to buildings that were due for their 40-year recertification. Some blamed the pandemic for the delayed notices, some weren’t aware that a recertification notice needed to be sent.

Wallman said there was definitely room for the state and federal government to tighten up the recertification process, but ultimately the onus for maintaining the integrity of a condo building lies with its residents and condo association.

“The bottom line is the condo owners themselves are going to have to be willing to shell out the money to make these repairs and that, you know, that's where the rubber meets the road,” she said.

The Haitian Presidential Assassination Investigation

Nearly one month has passed since Haitian President Jovenel Moise was assassinated in his home. Dozens of arrests have been made in connection to the murder — including three Haitian Americans — but the mastermind of the plan has yet to be identified.

The assassination has added another layer of uncertainty to the country that was already suffering from economic instability and waves of violence.

Miami Herald reporter Jacqueline Charles has been covering the Caribbean for more than a decade. She said Moise’s murder case had been transferred from the Haitian Judicial Police to the judiciary.

“What we're now waiting for is for the case to be assigned to an investigative judge, which works similar to a grand jury," said Charles. “This judge will have basically three months to further investigate this case and ideally bring charges against individuals who are in custody and then take it to trial.”

The FBI and Homeland Security have launched investigations related to the assassination, as has Colombia. Eighteen Colombians ex-commandos have been arrested in Haiti in connection to the assassination.

Charles said it isn’t clear at this time if the different entities are working independently or in unison, but that on Thursday, the Haitian Foreign Minister asked the United Nations to help lead an international court of inquiry into the assassination.

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Andrea Perdomo is a producer for WLRN News.