Miami-Dade Public Schools Superintendent Alberto Carvalho announces revised COVID-19 protocols Thursday morning.

Mask mandates are returning to schools, but not for kids. Superintendent Alberto Carvalho announced a revision to health protocols at Miami-Dade County Public Schools during a news conference Thursday.

As classes return Monday, all employees, volunteers, visitors, contractors and vendors entering school facilities will be required to wear facial coverings. This includes those working on school buses like drivers and attendants, as well as spectators at school sporting events.

However, students will not have a mask requirement.

“While facial coverings are not required or permitted in the state of Florida as a result of both recent legislation as well as court action, we are strongly encouraging students, all students at all grade levels, to wear masks at all times,” Carvalho said. 

He added that the school board is consulting with legal entities to explore all means to challenge state legislation regarding student mask-wearing and that he has sent a letter to Governor Ron DeSantis and Florida Department of Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran, requesting additional guidance on the latest surge and its impact on the school system.

“While we continue to encourage social distancing and vaccinations for anyone eligible, we are concerned that these measures, even when coupled with comprehensive sanitation, improved ventilation, and air filtration, may not be sufficient to defend against this highly transmissible variant,” part of the letter reads. “The recent legislation signed into law on November 18, 2021, has the effect of prohibiting public schools from requiring students to wear a face mask, a face shield, or any other facial covering; and prevents districts from excluding a student from attending school or school-sponsored activates, being on school property or subjecting a student or disparate treatment, based on exposure to COVID-19, so long as the student remains asymptomatic and has not received a positive test for COVID-19.”

The superintendent also noted that self-isolation and quarantine protocols for students will remain the same -- 10 days. As a result of newly released CDC guidelines, however, M-DCPS employees who test positive for COVID-19 will require no more than five days of quarantine, as long as they have no fever without fever suppressing medication. This means that those who had symptoms prior to Dec. 29, as long as they are asymptomatic or their symptoms have improved, can return on Jan. 3.

In a statement emailed to The Miami Times, United Teachers of Dade President Karla Hernandez-Mats said that parents and teachers alike understand that masks are the best way to ensure students’ safety.

“It’s embarrassing how Governor DeSantis has made the district vulnerable and susceptible to the rapid spread of this disease among children,” the statement reads. “The School Board and the Superintendent have their hands tied because of the negligent law passed during the special session last month. Now is the time for the Governor to act responsibly, lead this community, and provide a safe learning environment for our children.”

“We are continuing to experience a significant health crisis,” Carvalho said Thursday. “Positivity rates in our community continue to escalate. In fact, positivity rates in Miami-Dade today are at 25%. The number of cases per 100,000 individuals in our community has skyrocketed from about 62 just a month ago to about 1,800 as of December 29th. That is unprecedented during any time that we have dealt with this coronavirus crisis going back over a year and a half ago.”

Broward schools are expected to announce similar changes on Friday, Dec. 31, during an emergency meeting.

All of this comes less than two months after both school systems relaxed their mask policies.