COVID-19: Masks concerns for the upcoming school year

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — The American Academy of Pediatrics released new guidelines for schools on Monday, supporting in-person learning and strongly recommending universal mask-wearing.

This is as COVID-19 cases continue to rise in northeast Florida.

As of right now, Duval County Public Schools and other local school districts are not requiring masks. Rather, they are strongly encouraging them.

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We’re just a few weeks away from the start of school. And this year, Amy Mitchell’s children went back inside a classroom instead of learning from home.

Mitchell, a local parent, explained, “Last year was really hard doing school from home.”

Back in May, parents, including Mitchell, participated in a survey on what the new school year should look like.

Mitchell admitted at the time she was ready for in-person learning and optional mask-wearing.

With almost 29,000 respondents, the district reported 49% said masks should be optional.

In all, 29% said masks should be mandatory, and 22% said masks should only be required in movement and crowded spaces.

Mitchell explained, “Now though, things are different, and I am pretty nervous about sending my child who is under 12 back into school when masks will not be required.”

In the last month, cases have skyrocketed on the First Coast.

According to the latest Florida Department of Health numbers, Duval County has a nearly 22% positivity rate for new COVID-19 cases.

That’s among the highest in the state right now. Currently, only about 49% of the population in Duval is vaccinated.

And Mitchell’s son is too young to get the vaccine.

“I have to confess I am pretty tired of wearing masks myself. I just think it is a must in the elementary schools where most of the kids cannot get vaccinated,” she said.

Mitchell and other parents told Action News Jax they would like to see DCPS reinstate all of the protocols it was using last year, including Duval Homeroom.

As of right now, that’s not an option for the upcoming school year.

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“I think we all need that to gauge our level of risk safety and to know what we’re comfortable with. I want to know what kind of environment I’m sending my kid into,” she said.

We reached out to the district on Monday to see if it will make any changes to its back-to-school plans. We’re told it is looking into our request and will get back to us.