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Saturday, May 25, 2024

Alachua County Public Schools mandates masks for employees

The requirement seeks to keep people safe after the rise in COVID-19 cases over winter break

Alachua County Public Schools will require employees, volunteers and visitors to wear masks when they return from winter break on Tuesday due to the uptick in COVID-19 cases. 

ACPS has been monitoring the rise in cases in Alachua County, ACPS spokesperson Jackie Johnson said. In the last two weeks, county COVID-19 cases increased from 677 to more than 2,000, contributing to Florida’s nearly 300,000 cases this past week. ACPS announced the change in mask requirements for staff Sunday in an update for families on its website.

As people head back to Alachua County, ACPS felt that mandating masks for everyone except students was an appropriate step to combat the spread of COVID-19, especially the Omicron variant, Johnson said. She hopes the mandate will be temporary. 

ACPS cannot mandate mask-wearing for students, due to a Florida law, but strongly encourages students to wear masks.

The school district and state government struggled in a legal battle over masks for months. Back in July, Gov. Ron DeSantis issued an executive order to ban mask mandates. Alachua County defied these rules and established a mask mandate for the beginning of the school year. 

Then, in September, ACPS filed a lawsuit against the Florida Department of Health to challenge the surgeon general’s rule that limits mask mandates in public schools and allowed parents to opt their students out of wearing a mask. Now, there is a new state law in which public schools cannot impose mask mandates for students, and an opt-out form is no longer required for families that prefer their child not wear a mask, ACPS’ website states

“The state legislature has taken away the option for requiring masks for students and quarantines for students,” Johnson said. “But we still have some options for requiring masks for employees.”

Students who test positive for COVID-19 or have symptoms must stay home until they receive a negative test and are asymptomatic, they receive written permission from a medical professional or 10 days have passed since the onset of their symptoms. 

However, state limits have made direct-contact quarantining optional. If a student comes within 6 feet of someone with COVID-19 for at least 15 minutes, quarantine is recommended but no longer required, according to the surgeon general’s emergency rule

This mask mandate for employees, visitors and volunteers is an effort to protect students, staff and families, Johnson said. 

This month, the Alachua County Health Department will offer vaccinations at ACPS elementary and middle schools. Students at least 5 years old are eligible for their vaccine. 

Contact Emma at Follow her on Twitter @emmabehrmann.

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Emma Behrmann

Emma Behrmann is a fourth-year journalism major and the Fall 2023 digital managing editor. In the past, she was metro desk editor, K-12 education reporter and a university news assistant. When she's not reporting, she's lifting at the gym.

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