By Peter D'Oench

MIRAMAR(CBSMIAMI) —- As the Broward school system strongly recommends that students wear face masks when school resumes next month, the issue is drawing national attention in part because of an exchange on Thursday that involved Florida’s Governor and the White House Press Secretary.

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki, said, “If I were a parent in Florida, it would be greatly concerning to me because kids under the age of 12 have not been vaccinated and they are not eligible.” She said by not wearing masks.

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“That puts kids at risk and is not in line with health guidelines. We know that masks are not the most comfortable thing. I would say that most kids are adjusting to them.” She said, “We would have concerns about any steps that don’t abide by public health guidelines” and spread the risk.

Psaki, who is also a parent, made those remarks in response to comments from Governor Ron DeSantis who said, “At the end of the day, you have to look out for kids first.

We have to look out for education. Is it really comfortable and is it really healthy for them to be muzzled and have their breathing obstructed all day long in school? I don’t think it is. I have a 3-year-old son and you people like Fauci saying he should be muzzled and throw a mask on a 3-year-old. That is totally unacceptable.”

Broward Schools Superintendent Robert Runcie said on Tuesday that face makes were strongly recommended for students but said they would not be mandatory. He also said that could change with the recent surge in Coronavirus cases.

In a statement released to CBS4 News, Broward Public Schools said it “is strongly recommending that face coverings be worn by all students and employees…we are monitoring positivity, hospitality and mortality rates associated with the COVID-19 Pandemic. These indicators have risen significantly over the past weeks.”

Face masks and other protocols will be the subject of a Broward School Board workshop next Tuesday. Classes resume on Wednesday, August 18th.

CBS4’s Peter D’Oench spoke with Anna Fusco, the President of the Broward Teachers Union, who said the BTU did not have a position yet as to whether students and teachers should wear masks when school resumes and was studying this issue and looking for more data. Fusco will attend the workshop on Tuesday.

She said, “We are in a tight situation here. Lots of people have been vaccinated who we don’t know. Those 12 and under do not have the option to get vaccinated so it’s a big concern for K through 7 and support staff. I have requested a lot of data so we can talk about the best course to do with masks.’

Fusco said, “We have groups who are not going to bring their kids back if they have to wear masks and we have teachers who can not teach all days in masks.”

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In Miami-Dade, Karla Hernandez Mats, the President of United Teachers of Dade, said she favors masks for students when classes resume on August 23rd.

This week, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommended that all students older than 2 wear face masks when going to school.

Dr. Aileen Marty, an Infectious Diseases expert at Florida International University, told D’Oench on Tuesday she agreed with that recommendation, adding “It is really important for children to mask up when they are in an enclosed space for eight hours. We are seeing more and more cases of young people and the bulk of cases right now are those 12 to 39 years old with the highest concentration of people in their 20s.”

It is compounded by the highly transmissible Delta Variant.

“It is highly contagious and people infected have higher viral loads. The higher viral loads that they are shedding means that their protection can be overwhelmed.”

Miami-Dade has more than 356,000 students and more than 18,000 teachers and is the nation’s 4th largest school district.

In Miami-Dade, the face mask issue could be discussed at the next School Board meeting in August.

Schools Superintendent Alberto Carvalho said on Monday that he realized that there are a lot of concerns but said for now, wearing face masks would be optional.

Carvalho said, “Our position is based on current environmental conditions in Miami-Dade and based on scientific information available to us which indicates lower positivity rates than months ago and secondly, available hospital beds in our community and equally important the availability of vaccines.”

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“Obviously, we are speaking with our federal partners to try to understand when they are releasing vaccines and when it will be made available to children because that will stabilize conditions in our community and beyond.”
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Peter D'Oench