Schools weigh mask mandates: Which Tampa Bay districts are requiring masks?

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TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — With more children in Florida being hospitalized with COVID-19 and no vaccines approved for kids under 12, will students be required to mask up in the classroom?

CDC guidance recommends universal indoor masking for all teachers, staff, students, and visitors to K-12 schools, regardless of vaccination status. But last month, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis issued an executive order that bars schools from mandating the use of masks, and gives Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran the power to withhold state funds from districts that do not comply.

A number of Florida school systems say they will either keep or issue new mask mandates, challenging the governor’s order. In Tampa Bay, schools have considered changing the rules amid growing calls to pass mask mandates.

Here’s a county-by-county roundup of local school districts and their mask rules.

Hillsborough County

Hillsborough County Public Schools will now require students to wear face coverings. Parents who do not want their child to wear a mask must fill out an opt-out form.

According to Hillsborough schools, only 16,514 opt-out forms had been submitted as of 11:00am on Monday, representing approximately 8.9% of the student population (based on 2020 attendance numbers).

Pinellas County

For now, face coverings are strongly recommended (not mandatory) when indoors for both staff and students.

More than 2,000 Pinellas County parents that have signed a petition asking for a mask mandate emergency meeting with the Pinellas County School Board. The board is holding a workshop Monday to review recommendations from the Florida Department of Education and the Florida Department of Health.

Sarasota County

Masks will be optional in Sarasota County schools this fall, but strongly encouraged for those who are unvaccinated, but it is not mandated, the school district said.

Manatee County

The Manatee County School Board held a meeting Monday and heard several hours of public comment on mask requirements, but ultimately decided to begin the school year with masks being optional for students. The Manatee County School District had previously surveyed parents about their mask preferences, asking if they would want their child to wear a mask and if they would prefer their child be in a mask-only classroom.

Polk County

For now, face coverings and masks will remain optional for Polk County Schools students and staff during the upcoming school year, as previously decided by the Polk County School Board via a unanimous vote in June, a notice on the district’s website says.

Pasco County

Masks are optional in Pasco County Schools. The school district recommends parents visit the CDC website to review the latest guidance.

Hernando County

Masks are strongly recommended but optional for students, staff and visitors. A limited supply of disposable masks will be available for students, the district said.

Citrus County

Masks are optional for students and will be available at all school sites and buses for anyone wishing to wear one.

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