Hillsborough School Board to discuss mask mandate that expires next week

Coronavirus

TAMPA (WFLA) – The Hillsborough School Board is set to discuss the district’s 30-day mask mandate that is set to expire on Friday, Sept. 17 during a meeting on Thursday afternoon.

The school board’s discussion will come a day after Judge John Cooper granted an emergency motion to vacate the automatic stay in the Florida school mask lawsuit trial. It is the second time he has sided with the group of parents who sued Gov. Ron DeSantis and the Florida Department of Education.

Judge Cooper’s ruling means districts can still keep mask mandates in place and the Department of Education cannot punish school board members while the case goes through the appeals process.

During the 2020-21 school year, Jackie Ungureit’s two sons did E-learning in the fall before returning to school for the second semester.

“Nobody wants to be taught by their mom,” Ungureit told 8 On Your Side. “They don’t listen as it is, they’re happier when they’re at school.”

But five days before the Hillsborough School Board voted in favor of a mask mandate, Ungureit said she kept both of her boys at home.

“The covid numbers were going up so exponentially that I was like I don’t feel safe with you there,” she said.

The day her 11-year-old son Charlie went back to school, Ungureit said he got exposed to COVID-19 by a classmate.

When in quarantine, the sixth-grader never tested positive.

“(Charlie) was wearing a mask, the other kid was wearing a mask,” Ungureit said. “After I got that first negative test I was like, we’re good.”

Both Charlie and his younger brother Bennett told 8 On Your Side they have no problem wearing a mask at school.

“Well, it will spread out of control if we don’t,” Charlie said.

“You have to wear a mask because they protect you from getting covid,” seven-year-old Bennett said.

During the virtual hearing Wednesday morning, Judge John Cooper said there could be irreparable harm to Florida students if districts cannot require masks now during the spread of the more contagious delta variant.

Attorneys for Gov. Ron DeSantis argued the school mask lawsuit is about a new statute – one they believe supports parental choice.

“And following the testimony and the evidence, the court made its best judgment based on what it saw and what it heard,” the governor’s attorney Michael Abel said. “Maybe your honor got it right, and maybe your honor got it wrong. We’ll see.”

Since the Hillsborough School Board brought back its mask mandate, the dashboard shows a more than 50 percent drop in the number of students and staff impacted by COVID-19.

As of Wednesday night, 5,647 students and staff, or about 2.33% of the district, are home in isolation for a positive test or quarantine because of exposure to the virus.

Back on August 19 the day after the vote, the dashboard showed a district impact of 5.13% with more than 12,000 students and employees in isolation or quarantine.

“The impact is there, so regardless if you believe in the mask or not the data we have doesn’t lie,” said Ungureit, who hopes the Hillsborough School Board will extend the 30-day mandate that expires next week.

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