Florida education chief: Masks should be voluntary next year

Some activists and educators are at odds over Florida’s Education Secretary's memorandum asking school districts to remove any COVID-19 mask mandates.

In a memo sent Wednesday, Richard Corcoran said that "Florida has once again proven that one-size-fits-all policies do not meet the unique needs of individual students or their families."

Corcoran also claimed that data shows mask policies don’t impact the spread of the virus and "serve no remaining good at this point in our schools."

His memo didn’t cite any particular data to back up the claim, which goes against guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that mask-wearing in schools — along with social distancing and frequent hand-washing — is essential to stopping the spread.

Researchers at the University of Central Florida say masks keep the disease from spreading. Professor Michael Kinzel says his research shows that masks do a great job of keeping people with COVID-19 from spreading the potentially deadly virus.

"Without a mask, your transmission rates would go significantly up, even with social distancing," he said. "With masks, it looks like you can start relaxing social distancing while increasing the capacity of the classrooms."

Corcoran is asking districts mandating masks to revise their policy for the 2021-22 school year.

MORE NEWS: County-by-County: Central Florida high school graduation ceremonies

Anti-mask activist Rebecca Sarwi was one of a group of mask-less mothers who protested Volusia County's mask mandate last year and got dragged out of a school board meeting. She applauds the announcement.

"While I'm really pleased with it," she said, "I'm hoping it will be enough to encourage them to make the policy...to rescind the mandatory policy and make the policy to say that it's just optional."

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention continues to push for the correct and universal use of masks in the classroom. Orange County Teachers Union President Wendy Doromal says there's still a pandemic, and students need to stay safe.

"There's concern because so many more students came back just in January, that you can't even do three-foot distancing," she said, "so it's not practical to say that you could safely conduct classes during a pandemic in that situation with no masks."

FOX 35 News contacted all of central Florida’s school districts about this. All of them replied essentially the same way, stating that they'd gotten the letter from the state and are still in the planning phases when it comes to their policies for the next school year.

Tune in to FOX 35 Orlando for the latest Central Florida news.