The mask debate in schools is still top of mind as many kids in the Tampa Bay area get ready to go back for a new school year. Many parents have reached out to ABC Action News sharing their concerns that masks aren’t required as Florida sees a surge in COVID-19 cases.
“I will be sending my kids back in masks,” said Kimberly Lasher.
Lasher has three kids in Hillsborough County Schools, all too young to get the COVID vaccine. She explains masks not being mandated in school this year is a big concern for her.
“Here we are with numbers spiking like crazy here in Florida, especially Tampa Bay, and I have fears of my kids getting sick or us kind of helping to spread it because they’re not vaccinated,” said Lasher. “I think the lack of oversight is going to prove to be problematic this school year.”
Masks remain optional for students and staff in Hillsborough County Schools. At least two petitions are circulating regarding requiring masks in the district. On Wednesday, ABC Action News asked Superintendent Addison Davis, with the surge in cases and the Delta variant’s impact on younger people, especially those who can’t get vaccinated, about his message to parents who may be wary to send their kids back to school next week.
“I go not only to those who cannot have accessibility to vaccination or employees, we strongly recommend that they wear mask,” said Davis during a press conference. “We think that that will be an opportunity for them to have a better place of care, better safety. We’ll continue to support our learners and provide them the necessary PPE to be successful, not only to our students, but to our employees as well.”
Davis also recognized the recent executive order signed by Governor Ron DeSantis protecting the rights of parents.
“For those who elect to transition and go and rival the executive order, it’s been very clear that there’s financial implications that will hurt school districts,” said Davis.
“All you can really do is hope that the school board is putting politics and money aside and doing the best thing for the children, and right now, that’s having a mask mandate, at least until we can get a handle on the current situation,” said Nicolas Mehas.
Mehas has two students in Pinellas County Schools, where masks are voluntary. His kids also aren’t eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine, and he shared his concerns over the lack of a mask mandate.
“It doesn’t need to be all year,” said Mehas. “I’m not saying that the children need to be masked 24/7, but it’s a small environment with lots of children in an unvaccinated setting.”
Pinellas County Schools said they recognize and understand concerns. The district said while they can’t mandate masks, they will strongly recommend all students and staff wear them. If a mandate doesn’t happen, Mehas recommends parents have a conversation with their kids about masking up.
“Letting them know that that’s not only protecting them, but other children in their classroom and their parents and the teachers, everybody that they’re going to interact with in the day,” said Mehas.