TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — The superintendent of Hillsborough County schools announced Tuesday that face coverings will be required throughout the district when school starts next month.
Superintendent Addison Davis posted a message to the community on Twitter saying that, due to coronavirus concerns, face coverings will be required for students, teachers and staff where social distancing is not possible.
“We collaborated with medical experts at University of South Florida and Tampa General Hospital to help guide our decision making around protocols and guidelines to ensure the safety of our entire district,” Davis said in a statement. “We can agree that the health and safety of our students, teachers, staff and Hillsborough County residents are paramount to kicking off the 2020-2021 school year next month.”
The news comes one day after Florida Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran signed an emergency order stating all brick and mortar schools in Florida must reopen in August at least five days a week to provide services to students.
Davis says the district will provide three reusable masks to each student on the first day of school. Three reusable masks will also be provided to staff members. The superintendent says a total of more than 760,000 masks will be available thanks to “purchases and donations.” Donations came from the Hillsborough County Emergency Operations Center, Humana and AVID.
“The spread of coronavirus in our community has shown no signs of decreasing over the past few weeks,” he said. “The Florida Department of Health recommends the use of face coverings, citing that their use helps to slow the spread and helps people who may have COVID-19 but asymptomatic from transmitting the virus to others.”
The decision to require masks came after Davis says he and other district officials “listened to concerns from across the county, confronted internal challenges and consulted medical experts.”
“It is imperative our learners get back to our teachers for face-to-face instruction but only under the safest conditions,” he said. “I believe requiring a face covering is the best option we have at this time to provide an additional layer of protection for everyone on our campuses.”
Before the decision came down, a group of more than 175 local physicians had been prepared to issue a letter to the district at Tuesday’s school board meeting urging masks for school re-openings.
The doctors included Dr. Paul Nanda, who attended Tuesday’s meeting in support and said his family had previously been on the fence about sending their kids back to school.
“We are now comfortable sending them back,” he told 8 On Your Side.
For some parents, however, it’s a tipping point in the other direction. Zachary Horl had already filled out the letter of intent for his kids in Hillsborough Schools, planning to send them back next month.
After hearing news of the mask mandate, he’s not so sure. He raced to Tuesday’s school board meeting to voice his disappointment.
“To make kids put on a mask and be breathing their own carbon dioxide all day while they’re at a rested heart rate, I think that’s just ridiculous,” Horl said.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease doctor, testified in a Senate hearing last week and said there’s “no doubt the mask protects you and protects others.” Fauci reiterated his message during a Facebook live segment with Sen. Doug Jones (D-AL) on Tuesday and talked about the reopening of schools not being a “one size fits all” situation.
“We should try as best as possible to get the children back to school and the schools open,” Fauci said. “You don’t want to be risking the health of the children and their families but you’ve gotta follow the guidelines depending upon the level and the penetrance of infection in the community.”
In his statement, Superintendent Davis acknowledges there will be challenges and concerns as schools resume next month amid the surge in coronavirus cases throughout the state.
“But I’m confident these obstacles will be met with empathy and understanding to ensure we’re creating a safe learning environment for all,” he said.
According to his statement, the district will be monitoring health updates and recommendations. If conditions improve enough, Davis says he will lift the requirement.
The first day back to school in Hillsborough County is Aug. 10.
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