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Duval Schools makes masks optional for 2021-22 school year, no more Duval HomeRoom

Face masks have been downgraded from mandatory to "strongly encouraged, but voluntary" at elementary schools and "voluntary" at secondary schools.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla — Next school year, students will no longer be required to wear face masks on campus, Duval County Public Schools announced.

The district discussed its school opening plan Tuesday morning at a school board workshop meeting. The plan includes guidance on coronavirus safety policies that are staying and going for the 2021-22 school year. 

Here's what we know: 

  • Face masks have been downgraded from mandatory to "strongly encouraged, but voluntary" at elementary schools and "voluntary" at secondary schools
  • The school's temporary virtual school option, Duval HomeRoom will no longer be offered
  • Temperature checks will be completely discontinued
  • Desk shields will be available for small groups in elementary settings but discontinued in secondary schools
  • Social distancing signs and hand sanitizer stations will still be used

More: Northeast Florida education news

The news comes one day after a survey for parents, students and school district employees wrapped up. The survey asked stakeholders to weigh in on wearing masks, temperature checks, desk shields and more. 

Results show that 28,685 people participated in the survey with the bulk — 50 percent — of responses coming from parents. 

According to the school district, it used a mix of survey results, CDC guidance and input from local health officials to decide how to proceed. For the most part, the school district's policy updates aligned with survey results — 49 percent of respondents said face masks should be optional and 41 percent wanted to see desk shields removed.

Temperature checks were a less clear-cut topic: 46 percent wanted to see them continued, 33 percent wanted them gone. The remaining respondents were either undecided or only thought temperature checks should occur if there was an outbreak on campus. 

The district's move on face masks mirrors a number of Florida school districts which, under pressure from the state, opted to lift the mandate and make the face coverings optional next school year. 

The decision to remove the district's temporary virtual school option, Duval HomeRoom — which allowed students to stay enrolled in the school they attended but learn from home — is one stakeholders have been waiting to hear news on for weeks.

Over the past few months, other Florida school districts announced similar decisions regarding temporary virtual school options. Both Miami-Dade and Broward County school superintendents announced schooling would be 100 percent in-person last month. Others, like Hillsborough County, remain undecided. The district's full-time virtual school, Duval Virtual Instruction Academy is still offered. 

The decisions follow months of press conferences featuring Florida Department of Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis pushing for in-person schooling. 

"The 21-22 school year will be here before we know it," Superintendent Diana Greene said in a video posted on the school district's website. "I can't thank you enough for your patience and perseverance as we navigated such an unpredictable, challenging time."

The new guidance doesn't go into effect until next school year. Current COVID-19 safety guidelines are still in place throughout the school district through June 3, the last day of school. Mask-wearing will become optional when summer instruction begins within the school district. 

Emily Bloch is an education reporter for The Florida Times-Union. Follow her on Twitter or email her.

Read the original version of this story from our news partners, the Florida Times-Union.

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