Hillsborough students mask up on first day of class amid face covering debate


HILLSBOROUGH COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) — As the debate over masks on school grounds rages on, school leaders are doing what they can to keep children safe.

School leaders say their biggest concern is children 12 and under who can’t get the COVID-19 vaccine as Florida sees and increase in COVID-19 cases.

The CDC recommends all teachers, staff, students, and visitors to K-12 schools wear masks indoors, regardless of vaccination status. But Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis doesn’t want mask mandates in public schools, and said the Department of Education has the power to withhold funding from school districts that don’t comply.

Amid growing calls from parents for mask mandates, the Hillsborough County public school district is doing what it can to make both the state and parents happy. The school district is requiring students to wear face masks, but parents who do not want their child to wear a mask can have them opt out by filling out this form.

“My role and responsibility is to be that buffer. To remove any barriers that really impede the educational environment and settings. I’ll take on all that political side and all those elements, so we can really focus on children and not adults,” said Hillsborough County Schools Superintendent Addison Davis.

Little Rosy Martinez is starting kindergarten on Tuesday morning.

“I’m nervous,” she told 8 On Your Side.

“I feel extremely proud. I made sure that she had on her LeBron James. She’s very excited,” said her father, Jonathan Martinez as he dropped her off for the first day of class at Sessums Elementary.

“It concerned us last year, which is why we held her back from going into school so much, but I mean, not you don’t really have a choice. We didn’t want her to be held back anymore. We made sure to get her in school, and got to get her a mask right now,” said Martinez.

As the debate between the state, schools and health officials comes to a boil, Martinez hopes his daughter’s only concern will be what flower she paints in class.

While little Rosy puts on her mask, dad hopes her only concern will be what color flower she will paint in class.

“I like to paint and play,” said Rosy.

As of Tuesday, more than 16,000 parents chose to opt out. That affects less than 10% of students in the district.

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