Mask mandate in full compliance with state laws, Hillsborough Schools tells education commissioner

Coronavirus

TAMPA (WFLA) – The Hillsborough County Public School district has responded to the Florida Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran saying its 30-day mask mandate is in “full compliance with all state laws.”

“The judge presiding in the lawsuit brought by a group of parents against the governor and the Commissioner of Education reinforced this by ruling that the State Department of Education could not enforce a blanket ban on masks,” HCPS spokesperson Tanya Arja said in an email to 8 On Your Side.

Right after Judge John Cooper issued his oral ruling on Friday, Commissioner Corcoran sent a letter to Hillsborough School leaders alleging noncompliance with the Florida Department of Health’s emergency rule that required school districts to allow parents to opt-out their children from wearing a mask.

The commissioner’s letter said if the school districts cannot prove compliance, he will recommend that the State Board of Education withhold funding from each district equal to the salaries of all of their school board members. The state has already moved forward with the same sanction for Alachua and Broward Schools.

It has been two weeks since Hillsborough School reinstated its mask mandate after a 5-2 vote by school board members. The policy allows for parents to seek an exemption with a medical certificate. 

“The facial covering requirement appears to be working as the number of students and staff in isolation and quarantine and the number of reported COVID-19 cases in our schools have gone down since the requirement was put in place,” Arja said in her email.

More than 12,000 Hillsborough School students and staff, or 5.13% of the district, were home in isolation for testing positive or quarantine for possible exposure on Wednesday, Aug. 18.

The district’s dashboard now reports 9,663 students and staff, or 3.99% of the district, are currently home in isolation or quarantine.  

5,783 students and 1,122 employees from Hillsborough schools have tested positive for the virus since the start of August, according to the dashboard.

Hillsborough school board members relied on expert testimony from the Florida Department of Health in Hillsborough County and doctors and public health experts from Tampa General Hospital & USF Health in making their decision to bring back its mask mandate.

“The board’s emergency rule was adopted to address the alarming number of students and staff in Hillsborough County who were in isolation and quarantine when school started in August,” Arja said.

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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