HILLSBOROUGH COUNTY, Fla. — Students and teachers in Hillsborough County will be required to wear masks in the new school year when social distancing isn't possible, the superintendent announced on Tuesday.
"I have decided to require face coverings for our students, teachers, and staff where social distancing is not possible for the start of the upcoming school year," Addison Davis said in a statement on Twitter.
The district says it will provide three reusable masks for each student on Day 1 of school and three reusable masks for each staff member on the first day of teacher preplanning.
In total, the district will have more than 760,000 masks on hand through purchases and donations from the Hillsborough County Emergency Operations Center and community partners at Humana and AVID.
The change comes a day after Florida Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran issued an executive order requiring all of Florida's public K-12 schools to reopen in August.
As part of the executive order issued Monday, school districts and charter school governing boards must open brick and mortar schools at least five days a week for all students in August.
"Upon reopening in August, all school boards and charter school governing boards must open brick and mortar schools at least five days per week for all students, subject to advice and orders of the Florida Department of Health, local departments of health, Executive Order 20-149 and subsequent executive orders," the order reads.
The county previously had said masks would be strongly recommended, but not mandatory.
"I’ve seen kids as young as three years old with their masks and they do great," said pediatrician Dr. Beatriz Sankey. "I do think if we just practice it like anything, wearing a helmet, or wearing a seat belt, you’re going to get used to it.”
Sankey was one of more than 170 doctors who were pushing for the district to mandate masks in Hillsborough County schools. The group planned to present an open letter to the district at its meeting before the superintendent made the announcement.
Gareth Everett, a 12-year-old battling Cystic fibrosis, addressed school board members Tuesday afternoon to show support for the mask policy.
"I have a hard time breathing but I can still wear a mask, my immune system is terrible," said Everett told ABC Action News. "I get sick very easily."
Gareth's family says without the mask policy in place, the risks are too high for him to attend school in-person.
Annie Everett said she cried tears of joy upon hearing the district's announcement Tuesday.
"We’re going to take care of one another," said Everett. "It’s not about a personal thing, it’s really about the person next to you and beside you and that’s brotherly love."
The district released a FAQ sheet for parents on the mask mandate. The district also reiterated a change to the Declaration of Intent:
Families now have until Friday, July 17 to make their selection on the Declaration of Intent. Parents and guardians will select one of three options under Model A: traditional face-to-face instruction, full-time eLearning or Hillsborough Virtual K-12. If a parent or guardian has already made a selection and would like to choose another option, they can log back in to the Declaration of Intent portal, select the CHANGE button, and submit their new choice. This new change feature is available through July 17.
ABC Action News checked in with other Tampa Bay area school districts on their mask policies. Pinellas County Schools told us "it has always been our intention to lead using the best medical data for the well-being of our students and staff and requiring the use of masks is part of that plan."
The Pinellas County School District also ordered 500,000 reusable masks for students and staff.
Pasco County Schools will require all students to wear masks to and from their classroom, at arrival and dismissal, moving around campus, and on the bus. Manatee County said this will be discussed at an upcoming workshop, while Polk County says a re-opening task force is still working on recommendations.