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Duval County Public Schools teachers, staff required to wear masks for 30 days

"I had hoped the start of the new school year would be filled with smiling faces," Dr. Diana Greene wrote. "Our local COVID-19 numbers have continued to soar."

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Teachers and staff at Duval County Public Schools will be required to wear masks on campus and school facilities for 30 days beginning Monday, Aug. 2, according to an email sent to employees Friday.

DCPS Superintendent Dr. Diana Greene wrote that she reviewed the guidance and recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Florida Department of Health, the Florida Department of Education and other health agencies before making the decision to require masks for employees.

"Like so many of you, I had hoped the start of the new school year would be a return to a traditional school opening filled with smiling faces, hugs and stories about summer experiences during the pandemic," Greene wrote. "Unfortunately, despite the actions of many of you, our local COVID-19 numbers have continued to soar."

The emails says, were it not for Gov. Ron DeSantis' announcement Friday that he will be signing an executive order to prevent school districts from mandating mask requirements for students, the 30-day mandate would be applied to all pre-K through 12th grade students as well. It also would have extended for elementary school students when indoors until vaccinations are readily available for their age group.

"While I can not require the wearing of masks, we will continue to strongly encourage students to wear facial coverings when indoors," the email says. "We will also do all that we can to support students and families with access to vaccines until the rate of COVID-19 transmission in our community is at a safe level."

The district will have "layered mitigation strategies" to ensure that classes can resume in person and schools can remain open, Greene says in the email. The district will partner with FDOH-Duval to offer COVID-19 vaccinations for eligible students and employees, and provide duty-free time for district employees to get vaccinated.

"Although some of the guidance has been conflicting, what is clear to me is the devastating toll that the COVID-19 virus has had on our community," the email says. "Sadly, our own DCPS family has been tragically impacted by the loss of several employees over the past two weeks. Morally, I simply cannot enter another school year without ensuring every reasonable precaution is being taken to ensure the safety of our students, employees and our community."

The announcement comes the same week that a family lost two of its members, both of whom were DCPS maintenance employees, to COVID-19 complications, according to our news partners the Florida Times-Union. A third family member, a DCPS media specialist, remains in the hospital.

Following the 30-day period, masks will be optional for district and school-based employees, the email says. Workers who have a documented medical condition prohibiting them from wearing a cloth face covering can request an exemption from Human Resources.

"I know that this decision will not be popular for some employees and families, while for others the decision will be welcomed," Greene says in the email. "For all, please know that as superintendent, this decision was made after very careful thought and consideration. While as an organization, we strive to create environments where individuals positions are considered and valued, there are times when all other factors are usurped by the basic requirement to ensure students and employees remain safe. This is such a time."

The mask requirement extends to district vendors and visitors, according to the email.

Scroll down to read the full email from Greene to employees.

RELATED: 'No lockdowns, no school closures': Gov. DeSantis to sign executive order setting rules on masks

RELATED: Online petition calling for mask mandate in Duval County Public Schools receives hundreds of signatures

Team Duval,

Like so many of you, I had hoped the start of the new school year would be a return to a traditional school opening filled with smiling faces, hugs and stories about summer experiences during the pandemic. Unfortunately, despite the actions of many of you, our local COVID-19 numbers have continued to soar. This warrants the district reopening school another year with layered mitigation strategies. In order for classes to resume in person as well as schools and the district to remain open, we must all continue to do our part.

I am certain that many of you are aware of the debate regarding mandatory mask mandates. I have reviewed the guidance and recommendations from many authoritative health and education agencies including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Florida Department of Health (FDOH), the Florida Department of Education (FDOE) and other health experts. Although some of the guidance has been conflicting, what is clear to me is the devastating toll that the COVID-19 virus has had on our community. Sadly, our own DCPS family has been tragically impacted by the loss of several employees over the past two weeks. Morally, I simply cannot enter another school year without ensuring every reasonable precaution is being taken to ensure the safety of our students, employees and our community. I have concluded that to best protect our students and employees, a temporary mask requirement for all district employees is needed immediately.

Effective Monday, August 2nd, all employees, district vendors, and visitors will be required to wear masks or facial coverings in our schools and district facilities for a period of 30 days. During this time, we will partner with FDOH-Duval to offer COVID-19 vaccinations to eligible students and employees at identified secondary school sites. We will also provide duty-free time for district employees to get vaccinated. Following this 30-day period, masks will be optional for district and school-based employees. Employees with a documented medical condition prohibiting the wearing of cloth facial coverings should consult with Human Resources regarding the process for requesting an exemption.

The governor announced today that he will be issuing an Executive Over to prevent school districts from mandating mask requirements for students. Had it not been for this announcement, this 30-day mandate would be applied to all PreK-12 students as well and would extend for elementary students when indoors until such time as vaccinations are readily available and families can elect to have their student vaccinated. While I can not require the wearing of masks, we will continue to strongly encourage students to wear facial coverings when indoors. We will also do all that we can to support students and families with access to vaccines until the rate of COVID-19 transmission in our community is at a safe level.

I know that this decision will not be popular for some employees and families, while for others the decision will be welcomed. For all, please know that as superintendent, this decision was made after very careful thought and consideration. While as an organization, we strive to create environments where individuals positions are considered and valued, there are times when all other factors are usurped by the basic requirement to ensure students and employees remain safe. This is such a time. I thank you in advance for your compliance and understanding.

Kind regards,

Dr. Diana Greene

Superintendent

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