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The Latest On Mask Mandates In South Florida Schools And Recovery Efforts In Haiti

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Associated Press

First it was Broward County Public Schools having students wear masks in school unless they get a doctor’s note. Then by Wednesday, the school boards of both Palm Beach and Miami-Dade counties voted to require students to wear masks.

The Monroe County school board is meeting next week to reconsider its opt-out mask policy.

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The actions this week mean students in three of the five-largest public school districts in Florida have to wear masks or get a doctor’s note saying they don’t have to. The doctor’s note requirement has led the state Board of Education to find that Broward County’s policy violates state rules and laws.

Miami-Dade County School Board Vice Chair Steve Gallon III proposed the COVID safety protocols that were approved this week. He said the mask mandate was not a result of a lack of trust in parents' ability to make decisions regarding the use of masks for their children.

“They trust us to make decisions as relates to the safety, health and welfare of our children,” said Gallon. “Let's face it, this narrative has been predicated primarily on parents who oppose masks. But if you look at some qualitative and anecdotal data, we're hovering around 80% of parents that would like masks in the classroom, in the school environment, for the protection of their children.”

On Friday, the state Department of Education announced it will begin withholding state funds from districts that impose mask mandates. The education commissioner and the Board of Education may also impose additional sanctions on districts that do not comply with state rules.

Back To School Stress — For Students And Parents

The start of the academic year in South Florida is coinciding with a surge of coronavirus cases across the country. The ongoing mask debate has caused many parents like Robyn and John McCarthy in Miami-Dade County to reconsider whether or not to send their child to public school.

“We don't know what we're going to do, and we're really, really stressed because we're trying to do what's best for our child, which is in-person education,” said Robyn McCarthy. “And he should have that right, he does have that right. But to go safely, [the state is] taking that away from us.”  

The start of a new school year during normal times can be nerve-racking for students and families. The added uncertainty brought on by the coronavirus could intensify those nerves.

Dr. Elizabeth Pulgaron is a clinical and pediatric psychologist with expertise in the treatment of anxiety and depression. She is also an associate professor in the University of Miami’s pediatrics department.

Pulgaron said if parents are feeling frustrated and anxious about all of the uncertainty with the latest wave of the coronavirus as the school year gets underway, their children are too.

“[The pandemic] has been a long time and for many of us, it has been a frustrating process, there has been a lot of loss, there's been a lot of behaviors that we wish were different. But there are only so many things that we can control,” said Pulgaron. “I think as parents, it is important to model for your child appropriate communication to problem solve and to make the best decision for your family.”

Pulgaron said she recommends for parents to speak with their children about what is going on.

“So ... taking a step back and saying, OK, as a family, this is what we are doing and this is the reason that we are making our choices and trying our best to not judge other people's choices, accepting the things we can control and the ones that we cannot,” Pulgaron said.

Update On Haiti Recovery Efforts

It’s been nearly one week since a magnitude-7.2 earthquake struck Haiti. More than 2,000 people have died and efforts continue to find survivors.

The United States has sent a disaster response team to the country and, in South Florida, efforts to collect relief items are ongoing.

The country was already reeling from economic instability and violence. The Haitian president was assassinated last month, sending the country into a political tailspin.

Michele Sison is the U.S. Ambassador to Haiti. She is in Port-au-Prince leading an interagency response to the earthquake.

Sison said the United States Agency for International Development, a Disaster Assistance Response Team, urban search-and-rescue teams supported by the military’s Southern Command, as well as U.S. Coast Guard District 7 are working with Haiti’s Civil Protection Directorate to help people affected by the earthquake.

“This is Haitian-led efforts in identifying with us the locations where the assistance is needed most,” Sison said. “So we're talking about structural engineers on our USAID Disaster Assistance Response Team evaluating the structural integrity of a critical dam, we've got our USAID humanitarian experts working with the Haitian Civil Protection Directorate experts to determine additional humanitarian needs, including food assistance and shelter needs.”

Andrea Perdomo is a producer for WLRN News.