Parents concerned that Duval County charter schools are not bound by district’s mask mandate

News4Jax | By Joe McLean | September 14, 2021

Some parents of charter school students also calling for more transparency in COVID-19 case reporting

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ ban on required masking of students is being fought in the courts, but in the meantime, some school districts in the state are still imposing a mask mandate.

While Duval County Public Schools is requiring students and employees to wear masks, the county’s charter schools are not bound by the mask mandate. The situation has many charter school parents concerned and calling for changes.

Charter schools are in a very unique position, in that they get public money, but are not bound by most rules set by the elected school board. Charter schools have their own school board to make those decisions, and many local charter schools are taking their cues from the Florida Department of Education, which demanded that mandates not be imposed.

“It’s very concerning that they just have the option of not listening to the rest of the county,” said Donald Price, whose child attends River City Science Academy, which has six campuses in Duval County.

When News4Jax asked the school’s spokesperson if masks were required, the spokesperson said “we follow the State order” — meaning no.

“It’s disheartening and concerning, and it’s scary, to be honest,” Price said. “I thought I was sending my child to a progressive science school that was going to be advancing him and forward-thinking and science and stuff like that, mathematics, where now I feel like it’s more of a money and political thing than a teaching thing.”

There are more than a half-dozen Duval Charter School campuses across Jacksonville governed by Renaissance Charter School Inc. A spokesperson said the company “strongly recommends masks for all students and requires all teachers, staff and visitors to wear masks while inside its schools in Duval County.”

Parents who News4Jax spoke with said it’s not enough.

“It really stinks that it’s come down to this,” said Jill Lortz, the mother of a Duval Charter School student. “You hate that we’re in this situation. I wish it was better. I wish the numbers would come down.”

“I’m high risk because I have asthma. My parents are in their 70s. My sister is immunocompromised,” said Lenna Sutton, the mother of a Duval Charter School student. “So it’s just disappointing that they are not listening to CDC guidelines.”

Another thing that charter schools get to decide for themselves is what data to release to families and how often. While some parents said there is a lot of communication from the principal about how many cases are in their school, others are far less transparent.

“To me, that’s not acceptable. They weren’t sharing any data, and when I did speak to the school, they said they only have to report it to the CDC, they don’t have to, you know, report it to us. So really haven’t gotten any data,” said Yasmine Wilson, a mother of Duval Charter School students.

Charter schools are also not listed on the online DCPS COVID-19 dashboard. The district said the information system that the charter schools use is incompatible with the one the district uses but said that charter schools are free to disclose information with their own families.

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