Hernando County School Board passes mask mandate with opt-out for parents

Coronavirus

UPDATE: The Hernando County School Board passed the motion for a mask mandate with an opt-out for parents by a 3-2 vote.

Parents have to fill out a form online if they want to opt-out. It will be made available tomorrow.

The motion does not require a medical opt-out. The board will revisit the decision on Oct. 12.

The superintendent also got the approval from the board that teachers or visitors will have to wear a mask.

BROOKSVILLE, Fla. (WFLA) — Another Tampa Bay area school district is considering a mask mandate. The Hernando County School Board is having that discussion Tuesday afternoon.

Dozens of parents and community members signed up to speak on the controversial topic.

Right now, masks are only strongly encouraged in the school district.

Tuesday’s discussion comes as the school district reports 541 positive cases among students and 173 among staff members since Aug. 7.

The meeting also comes as Florida’s Commissioner of Education Richard Corcoran says the state is withholding school board member salaries in Alachua and Broward counties. Both districts implemented a mandatory face mask policy, that the state says violates parents rights by not allowing an opt-out option.

Gov. Ron DeSantis said a judge’s ruling last week against the state on banning school mask mandates, will be appealed.

The school board’s attorney spent time to discuss the topic Tuesday, and which school districts already have a mask mandate in place, including Hillsborough and Sarasota Counties.

The agenda item is as follows: Consideration of Information and School Board Options Regarding Mask Mandates and Follow Up Board Action as School Board Deems Appropriate.

Desiree Castaldo has a 9-year-old son in the school district .She is in favor of a mask mandate, but says this is no different than what the school district has in place. She hopes the school board moves forward with a medical opt-out if COVID-19 numbers don’t improve.

“I don’t feel I should have to choose between his safety and education,” Castaldo said. “Fear, fear runs through my mind.”

Parents against a mask mandate welcome the opt-out option, like Byron Fisher.

“The science doesn’t back the mask mandate, it isn’t healthy for our children and it’s not what the parents want,” Fisher said. “We hire them to make decisions for us, and if they don’t we should elect new ones who will.”

Not everyone on the board was on the same page. School Board member Jimmy Lodato voted no to the motion. He wanted the policy to stay pro-choice.

“My feeling is I don’t like to supersede when the state says something I’d like that to be what is enacted, and what we’re doing now is circumventing it,” Lodato said.

School board chair Linda Prescott voted yes for a mask mandate. She says the opt-out form will give the board the opportunity to see what is the percentage of parents who do or do not want masks in school.

“I want parents to know we do listen to them, we respect their opinions and we do care about the health of our employees, students and their families,” Prescott said.

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