TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) – Tampa Bay’s largest school district begins the new year on Tuesday amid new COVID-19 rules.

Students in Hillsborough County must abide by a new requirement to wear masks unless they opt-out through official paperwork signed by a parent.

With a new year on the horizon, the Hillsborough school district has one goal for staff and students: Keep everyone healthy.

“I think as a community we can really try to protect each other, wear a mask if we can, if that’s something your family wants to do and get your vaccination, that’s really the most important thing,” said district spokesperson, Erin Maloney.

After the paperwork was sent out on Saturday, parents began responding.

Amanda Domsohn knows this week, with school starting, will be intense as new COVID rules regarding masks are enacted.

“Covid is not going away, so I don’t know,” the Tampa mom told 8 on your Side. “I think it’s crazy, so, you know. Covid isn’t going away, so what can you do?”

Domsohn is grateful to know that parents have a choice in the matter when it comes to whether or not their children wear masks. She is glad to know moms and dads are allowed to make the decision.

“I think it should be optional for parents,” said Domsohn. “That’s the way it should be.”

According to Hillsborough County Public Schools, if you wish to opt out your child, you must fill out a form, which can be found online. The only parents who should fill out the form are those who do not want their child to wear a mask. Parents must fill out a form for each child.

“Right now, we have about 16,100 families who have filled out that form, which means their student does not have to wear a mask for the next month or so,” Maloney said.

To put those numbers in perspective, that’s just over 16,000 out of 185,000 students.

The district describes the current COVID crisis as a “fluid” situation and says parents also have the option to change their minds once the school year begins.

If they choose to fill out the form after classes begin, they can do so.

Maloney told 8 On Your Side, “We want to make sure that families have a choice to fill out that form throughout the next month or so, so they can always put that in writing again and we can always put that in a database at their school, so they’ll know.”

If students forget their masks, face coverings will be provided on campuses throughout Hillsborough County.

In addition, hand sanitizer stations will be located throughout schools.

Hillsborough County Superintendent Addison Davis sent out the following message to parents over the weekend regarding masks:

“Parents and Guardians,

Our teachers, administrators, and support professionals are excited to welcome students back for the 2021-22 school year. I understand many of our parents remain concerned as COVID-19 continues to spread in our community, but please know that district leaders have been working tirelessly to ensure campuses are prepared to provide proper health and safety protocols when students and staff return.

On Friday, the Florida Department of Health adopted a new Emergency Rule, 64DER-21-12, which states “Students may wear masks or facial coverings as a mitigation measure, however, the school must allow for a parent or legal guardian to opt-out the student from wearing a face covering or mask.”

With that said, I am announcing today that Hillsborough County Public Schools will require face coverings but will allow parents or guardians to opt their child out from wearing a face covering or mask. This requirement will continue until at least September 3rd. We will continue to work with our health partners at TGH/USF Health to monitor conditions in our community at that time to make further decisions.

While the outcome may be the same whether we make face coverings optional or required with an opt-out, we believe this decision continues to illustrate that Hillsborough County Public Schools takes public safety seriously. We want to ensure we are doing all we can to help community wide efforts to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. By taking this position today, we hope this provides our families time over the weekend to talk with their children before the start of school on Tuesday, August 10.

Parents will be expected to have conversations with their children so that students will follow through with their parents’ expectations regarding wearing masks while at school.

We are excited for the new school year and we thank you for trusting Hillsborough County Public Schools with your child’s education.”

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