Hillsborough County parents plead for change in mask policy before new school year

Hillsborough County

TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) – Dr. Raquel Hernandez from Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital told 8 On Your Side she is worried classrooms with unmasked children could become coronavirus super spreaders.

“This has been an incredibly anxiety provoking time not just for myself as a mom, but as a pediatrician,” she said. “I can tell you amongst colleauges this is one of the most worried periods throughout the pandemic.”

In Friday’s weekly covid-19 report, the Florida Department of Health recorded more than 134,000 new infections and more than 600 new deaths.

In Hillsborough County, the case positivity in the new state report is 19.2% percent and 8,636 new infections were reported.

Despite the record surge, students will return to class in the nation’s seventh largest school district next Tuesday without being required to wear a mask because of the executive order from Gov. Ron DeSantis in support of parent’s right to chose. He is also threatening to cut funding for districts that mandate masks.

“I went to open house today and only 25 percent of families were wearing masks, teachers weren’t wearing masks,” said Erin Martin.

Her twins start fifth grade next Tuesday. She said the fact that her 10-year-old boys are still not vaccine eligible only adds to her back to school covid-19 concerns.

A poll Friday on WFLA Now had 54 percent of respondents say they believe it should up to the parents to decide whether children wear masks in schools.

New guidance from Florida Surgeon General Dr. Scott Rivkees essentially allows school districts to have a mask policy, so long as parents have the option to opt out through paperwork.

“But we are only a few days in front of us for school and openly whether you implement that strategy versus making them strongly recommended and make them optional the outcome becomes the same,” Hillsborough Superintendent Addison Davis said Friday.

If families feel harassed by a school district’s health and safety protocols, the Florida Department of Education announced they are now are eligible for Hope Scholarships to transfer to a private school. This voucher program was initially intended for students who are bullied in school.

“From our standpoint internally,” Davis said, “we want to make certain we keep every one of our learners internally in our schools.”

Martin, Dr. Hernandez and 8th grader Hope Brillhart all told 8 On Your Side they hope Hillsborough School leaders change the mask policy before the first day of school.

“We can have a mask mandate with opt out and clause and there will be no penalty against us,” Brillhart said. “There are other school districts doing this in Florida.”

Orange County Schools announced Friday they are adjusting their mask policy to be mandatory with the opt out option for families.

The Hillsborough County School Board has called an emergency meeting for Monday morning, the day before children return to class.

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