Students, faculty adjust to new mask mandate

Izzy Pearson, Artin Fayaz Far, and Pranav Ponnusamy


Madelyn Sorgenfrei, Staff Writer

Brevard Public Schools voted to reinstate masks after Judge John Cooper of the Second Judicial Court of Florida ruled Friday that Florida’s Constitution requires that public schools keep students safe. The decision came after BPS school board member Jennifer Jenkins called for an emergency meeting Monday regarding the new ruling.

“I will defend my husband’s life, my family’s life, my community’s life, and my colleagues’ lives,” said Jenkins, Board Member, District 3. “I will not be quiet. [COVID-19] is a risk to our community, and I will absolutely not be on the wrong side of history. This is not political for me, this is personal for me. I absolutely support this mandate.”

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis prohibited mask mandates in schools before the school year started.

“The federal government has no right to tell parents that in order for their kids to attend school in person, they must be forced to wear a mask all day, every day,” DeSantis said. “Many Florida schoolchildren have suffered under masking policies, and it is prudent to protect ability of parents to make decisions regarding the wearing of masks by their children.”

Despite the new court ruling, the State Department of Education has withheld the monthly salaries of school board members in Broward and Alachua county after those districts adopted mask mandates. However, President Joe Biden has pledged support for those school board members.

“Unfortunately, as you have seen throughout this pandemic, some politicians are trying to turn public safety matters, that is children wearing masks, into political disputes for their own political gain,” Biden said. “Some are even trying to take power away from local educators by banning masks in school. They’re setting a dangerous tone. I made it clear, I will stand with those who are trying to do the right thing. Last week, I called school superintendents in Florida and Arizona to thank them for doing the right thing and requiring masks in their school.”

Brevard’s mandate passed 3-2 after the emergency meeting held on Monday Aug. 30. Effective immediately, BPS staff and students will be required to wear masks. However, there will be a five day grace period for students who choose to opt out of this mandate.

“[The five day grace period] would just be a period to allow [students] to get whatever exemption paperwork they would need,'” said General Counsel, Paul Gibbs. “[Students] wouldn’t have any consequences levied against them for the five days.”

As of Aug. 2, when staffs returned to buildings, Brevard Public Schools has had over 3,000 cases of COVID-19. Many students and staff have different opinions on the new mandate. BPS has also quarantined over 4,000 students and staff last week as COVID-19 cases continue increasing.

“Our numbers are outrageous,” said Cheryl McDougall, District 2. “I think we can all agree with that.”

Brevard country has had over 3,000 COVID-19 cases in public schools since Aug. 2.

“We’re going to [have to] close schools, [but] we can’t have e-learning, the state won’t allow us,” said school board chair, Misty Belford. “What are the options in front of us? We have to take some action, and if it allows us to keep kids in school, then that’s where I fall.”

Board members Jennifer Jenkins and Cheryl McDougall voted in favor of the temporary mandate, as well as chair Misty Belford. Vice Chair Matt Susin and board member Katye Campbell voted against the mandate.

“I would like for us to consider a parental opt out, I would like for us to consider a short time frame, a max of 30 days,” Campbell said.

While many students are wearing masks, some are still hesitant or disagree with the new mandate.

“I feel that it’s more like the family’s choice, if they’re wanting to [wear masks], but I feel like there’s not a lot of research behind [masks] in general,” said freshman Nicole Knoblock. “If the family feels that [masks] aren’t needed, especially if they’re vaccinated, then masks shouldn’t be forced onto a family.”

Brevard Public School’s school board will revisit the mask mandate after 30 days. For some students, even a temporary mask mandate felt like a step in the right direction.

“I feel like the school board is finally taking action this year because I feel like a lot of the COVID-19 policies have been chaotic,” said senior Delaney Gunnell. “I think this is a step in the right direction of making [COVID-19] manageable again. I personally wore my masks starting from the first day of school. I am vaccinated and did not plan to, but then I showed up [at school] and I realized that it was chaos. I think given the direction that the cases have taken lately, it is important that we’re back to everyone doing their part.”