HILLSBOROUGH COUNTY, Fla — Hillsborough County Public Schools announced on Saturday that masks will be required in schools, however, parents will be able to fill out a form to opt-out their kids if they choose to do so.
IMPORTANT UPDATE: Hillsborough County Public Schools will require face coverings as a mitigation measure as we begin the 2021-22 academic year, but will allow parents or guardians to opt their child out of wearing a face covering or mask. (1/4)
— Hillsborough Schools (@HillsboroughSch) August 7, 2021
The superintendent also released a statement on Saturday, August 7.
"Based on new feedback provided by board members and to avoid a last minute decision next week for families, I am announcing today that Hillsborough County Public Schools will require face coverings as a mitigation measure for the start of the 2021-22 academic year but will allow parents or guardians to opt their child out from wearing a face-covering or mask. This decision means we are canceling the Special Called Board Meeting previously scheduled on Monday."
This requirement for masks will continue until at least Sept. 3. The district says parents will receive an email with the HCPS Mask Opt-Out Form.
Superintendent Davis said it's a change made in compliance with Governor DeSantis' executive order banning mask mandates in schools. Superintendent Davis said allowing the "opt-out" option will prevent the district from financial penalties.
“The biggest thing we want to do is show the sensitivity to the current situation we’re in with COVID, we see that those numbers continue to rise,” said Davis.
It's a change Dr. Michael Teng, a virologist at USF Health, applauds as the delta variant spreads.
“It’s extremely important. We had really good results in our last school year where we did masks and physical distancing, hand sanitation, all that stuff. It’s going to be harder this time,” said Dr. Teng.
Dr. Teng also says he's glad this is a rolling decision that officials will continue to evaluate.
“The important thing is that we constantly review our policies, so if we say we’re going to have this kind of mask mandate, with an opt-out, but we’re gonna review the policy at a certain point in 4 weeks or whatever it is, to make sure that it’s still the right policy, this is what we should’ve been doing all along,” said Dr. Teng.
As for teachers, the district says they "highly recommend all employees wear a face covering or mask, therefore, it will remain optional for employees."
They say they'll continue providing PPE and make vaccinations and rapid COVID-19 tests readily accessible.