DCPS changes mask requirement due to decline in COVID-19 cases

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — If you’re a parent in Duval County, and you don’t want your child to wear a mask at school — you no longer need to submit a medical opt-out form to justify your decision. (To fill-out an opt-out form, you can use your FOCUS account online.)

This comes after the school district said data from the Department of Health shows the COVID-19 community transmission rate and positivity rates have each respectively reached their target zone to suspend the requirement for medical documentation. (This target zone was previously approved by the school board.)

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Action News Jax Courtney Cole spoke with the district’s media team throughout the day to learn more about the mask opt-outs.

According to the district:

  • Since the beginning of school, 10,143 students had parents to opt them out of wearing a mask.
  • This afternoon Cole learned 161 parents have submitted mask opt-out forms since the announcement was made on Friday, October 29th.
  • After the medical requirement was put in place on September 7th, 610 students had parents that were able to provide documentation to opt them out of wearing a mask in school.

Charlene Castro, a parent of three, said this move by the school district makes her feel concerned about her kids health and safety.

“Concerned, because number one, the vaccines are not for children. So if a student does have COVID, my kids could potentially get COVID if they do not have their mask on,” Castro told Cole.

Mark Spencer, also a DCPS parent, said he didn’t think masks were helpful in the first place, and doesn’t think anything can truly be done to stop transmission of the virus.

This is despite data-based information and COVID-19 mitigation recommendations, from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, throughout the pandemic.

“I’m not going to thank her [Superintendent Dr. Diana Greene] for something that she should’ve been doing the whole time. And neither should other parents,” Spencer said.

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The Duval County School District made the decision to remove any medical requirements based on two factors: new cases per 100,000 people reaching a level lower than 49.99 and positivity rate reaching a level lower than 7.99% over a seven day period.

Which both are considered a “moderate” level, by the CDC.

According to the latest data from the Department of Health at the time of this story:

  • The average number of new cases per 100,000 people is down to 41.2.
  • And the seven-day positivity rate is down to 2.9%

While Spencer said his son will not go to school with a mask anymore. Castro is taking a different route.

“We should take the most safest option that we have and it is definitely to protect ourselves and our children from further exposure, from further being contaminated. So I believe right now, mask wearing will keep us protected for right now,” Castro told Action News Jax.

Dr. Mobeen Rathore, the Chief of Pediatric Infectious Diseases and Immunology at UF Health, said wearing a mask is always a good idea, regardless of the virus transmission level.

For those parents that are concerned about what the holiday season could mean for COVID-19 rates going back up, Dr. Rathore said this:

“The issue is — we have to go by [what] the community rate is. And obviously this is being tracked, so we would know if it’s going up. And I think if the rate goes up again, then we may have to go back to masking,” Dr. Rathore explained.

Cole asked DCPS what factors would have to go into play for a mask mandate to be put back into place.

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The district told her this is something they’ve already put a lot of thought and work into.

More specifically, DCPS said in part that, “Dr. Greene is expected to bring recommended procedures and protocols for managing any future outbreaks of COVID-19 or similar communicable diseases to the School Board for action at its December meeting.”