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School mask mandates get revised, and addressing the gender pay gap in South Florida

Person puts a mask on a young child wearing a backpack
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Sun Sentinel
Parents need to make sure their kids' masks fit snugly and cover their mouths and noses.

South Florida public school children can now opt-out of wearing a facemask in school.

This week, Broward and Miami-Dade school districts revised their mask policies.

After months of enforcing mandates, masks are now “strongly encouraged” in Broward Public Schools.

Parents in Miami-Dade can fill out a form to have their children opt-out of using facemasks.

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And after a judge's ruling last week, parents in the School District of Palm Beach County have the opportunity to opt-out of having their child wear a face mask in school.

School leaders pointed to decreasing COVID-19 hospitalizations and infections — and the availability of vaccines for children 5-years-old and older.

Broward's Interim Superintendent Dr. Vickie Cartwright said the district’s approach to relaxing mask requirements differs from the policy in Miami-Dade County Public Schools.

“We're making it to where they don't have to complete a form ahead of time,” Cartwright said. “So if a parent or a student chooses not to wear a face covering, then they'll be allowed to be able to do that. But of course, we continue with our messaging of strongly encouraging people to wear a face covering.”

Dr. Steve Gallon is the MDCPS School Board Vice Chair and represents District 1. He said he is in favor of adjusting the district’s mask policy.

“As the board member that initially sponsored the item for the facial coverings, the item was initially predicated on the critical use of science and data,” Gallon said. “We stayed true to that particular focus, we never compromised or wavered on our decision relative to the importance and utilization of data. And presently, the data has driven us to this particular decision to lift the mask mandate. So it was not based on politics, but it was based on science and data, and I think we're better for it.”

Cartwright and Gallon said the mask policies will be revised if their respective counties experience another surge in coronavirus cases.

The Gender Pay Gap

The difference between what men earned in 2019 in Miami-Dade County and what women earned is 19 cents. Women earned 19 cents less per dollar than men.

Dr. Maria Ilcheva, an assistant research professor and assistant director of planning and operations of Florida International University’s Jorge M. Pérez Metropolitan Center, said the pre-pandemic gap in wages between men and women working full-time was surprising.

“Unemployment was at its lowest rate, wages were finally rising above inflation. And yet we see that rising disparity,” Ilcheva said.

Ilcheva said there is a controversial, yet “reasonable” answer behind seeing the pay gap increase during a time of relative economic stability.

“We know that women are still not the primary breadwinner in many families, and it is women who usually sacrifice their careers, sacrifice their career growth and economic mobility when the hard choices need to be made. So the reason why the pay gap was increasing in the pre-pandemic years is because, you know, in the booming economy, it's usually women who fall behind for these results," she said.

The pandemic is expected to have exacerbated the pay gap. The Women’s Fund Miami-Dade recently launched a Gender Equity Dashboard to collect local data on gender disparity. The organization’s interim executive director, Marya Meyer, said looking at what is happening on a micro level will help identify the factors driving the disparity between genders, and address them.

“We can look at this as an opportunity to get behind and dig down to why those things are happening and make a difference. And it will make a difference to the South Florida economy,” Meyer said.

The CEO and president of YWCA South Florida, Kerry-Ann Royes, said employers have a major role to play to address the gender pay gap.

"There are several things that companies can do, and I think one of the first things we have to recognize is that representation always matters. Right? The more women, the more people of color, the more diversity that we have in the seat at the table, the more conversations of inequities that become normalized, the more we are able to get ahead of these kinds of issues," Royes said.

Andrea Perdomo is a producer for WLRN News.