JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — An online petition urging Duval County Public School leaders to implement a mask mandate for the start of the 2021 through 2022 school year has received hundreds of signatures in less than 24 hours.
The change.org petition "Parents in Favor of a Mask Mandate" was published Monday night. By Tuesday at noon, it had the support of more than 300 people.
"In light of the high rates of community transmission and the current guidance from the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Centers for Disease Control, we call on the Duval County School Board to institute a mask mandate for elementary and middle school students for the upcoming school year," the petition says, addressing the Duval County School Board and Superintendent Dr. Diana Greene.
Duval County Public Schools will not be requiring students to wear masks inside the classroom or any school-related activities, including bus transportation. But, according to its website, the district "strongly recommends that unvaccinated students wear masks unless medical or developmental conditions prohibit use."
DCPS sent a statement to First Coast News stating:
"The district is in consultation with the Florida Department of Health-Duval this week to review the new guidance from the CDC and discuss health and safety guidelines going into the new school year."
A parent of two elementary-age students in Duval County, Agata Gardner, started the petition. In the petition details, she writes about the surge in COVID-19 cases among the unvaccinated population, and points out that no vaccine is currently available for younger school children.
"With the continued spread of the highly transmissible delta variant, the risk to our children is comparable now to what it was last fall," the petition says. It goes on to cite guidance from the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, both of which recommend masks be worn indoors for those 2 years and older who are not fully vaccinated.
Last week, the AAP released new guidance recommending masks for everyone in schools over the age of 2, including those who are fully vaccinated.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has rebuffed that notion, saying he does not want students to be "muzzled" while they are in the classroom.
"We're not doing that in Florida," DeSantis said in response to talks at the federal level potentially advocating for the imposition of masks on students.
The change.org petition urges local education leaders to reconsider.
"You have worked hard to keep our children safe to date," it says. "We urge you to re-evaluate your plans for the upcoming school year in light of current guidance and local data."
The Jacksonville NAACP is also urging Greene to make masks mandatory for students and employees in school buildings and classrooms.
"To do less, compromises the health and lives of students and employees," the NAACP's letter to Greene says in part. Scroll down to read the full letter.
While there are no current requirements for masks in Duval County schools, the district's website says if recommendations from the Florida Department of Education, Florida Department of Health and/or the City of Jacksonville are revised, the district may revise its requirements to comply with that update.