TAMPA (WFLA) – With the mandatory face-covering policy set to expire on Oct. 15 along with funding threats from the Florida Department of Education, the Hillsborough County School Board voted Tuesday evening 6-1 to let the mask mandate with medical opt-outs expire in 24 hours, ahead of the planned date of Oct. 15.

 In an effort to give school administrators, teachers, and staff time to implement this new policy, it will begin on Thursday, Oct. 7. 

When the school year began in August, Hillsborough County had a COVID-19 positivity rate of greater than 20 percent. It has now dropped to 8 percent in the latest Florida Department of Health Report from last Friday.

Parent Damaris Allen, who is a plaintiff on the Florida school mask lawsuit, said she’d like the mask mandate extended for a few more weeks.

“That’s when we’re expected to have the vaccine rollout for kids 5 and up and that would provide an extra layer of protection,” Allen said before the school board meeting.

Sandy Meyer has a daughter in middle school. She said she wants the school board to let the mask policy expire.

“It should never have went in place,” Meyer said. “They’re overreaching. They’re not following the law. We have a bill of rights, parents are supposed to make their own choice.”

Florida Commissioner of Education Richard Corcoran threatened to withhold funding from Hillsborough Schools in the amount of school board member salaries after being in violation of state rules for controlling COVID-19.

Hillsborough School leaders have pushed back in their letters responding to Commissioner Corcoran. They have defended their mask policy saying it has resulted in fewer students missing class because they are sick with COVID-19 or home in quarantine because of exposure.

Four dozen parents signed up to speak during public comment.

Parents will be asked to complete the online opt-out form and staff will work diligently to honor the intent of that declaration. All parents who wish to opt their child out of the mask mandate must resubmit the parental opt out form, even if they filled one out previously.