POLK COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) – Ahead of their return to the classroom, Alison Foley-Rothrock sat her sons down and pleaded with them about masks.
“’We understand that it might not be the popular thing to do’,” she told her vaccinated sons. “‘There are going to be a lot of kids and even teachers who aren’t wearing them, but please, please wear your mask all the time. Take care of yourselves.’”
She did this because Polk County Public Schools is not requiring masks in the classroom or on the bus.
On the other side, Lakeland’s Ron Engel says his grandchildren were unmasked in school Tuesday.
“Because their parents have made the choice that they don’t have to wear masks at this point. It was their choice and I respect that,” he said.
The county’s new school superintendent Frederick Heid has said the order from Gov. Ron DeSantis banning mask mandates takes away his authority to require masks at school.
School board member Sarah Fortney agrees.
“I don’t see where we have the power to impose anything because we have been threatened by the state,” said Fortney.
The governor vows to pull state funding to school districts, even educators’ and administrators’ salaries, that impose mandates.
Other school districts in Tampa Bay are mandating masks with an option for parents to opt-out.
“I don’t believe it’s enforceable and why make a rule that’s not enforceable?” said Fortney.
Family members of students are divided on this issue.
“The right choice right now is to stand up to the governor. What he’s doing is unconstitutional, it’s illogical, it’s cruel,” said Foley-Rothrock.
“I agree with our governor who said it’s a parents’ choice to raise their children and have them have the option and have their say,” said Engel.
Pictures provided to the media by Polk County Public Schools from inside a school Tuesday showed many students wearing masks.
“It’s like a three-ring circus going back to school today in most counties,” said Rep. Charlie Crist (D – candidate for governor).
Crist participated in a Hispanic business roundtable in Lakeland Tuesday.
He described his political opponent’s tactics as ‘bullying’ and said he’d take a different approach.
“Would you have a mask mandate for schools?” asked DaSilva.
“Yea, I would, especially now. We’re number one in the country in this pandemic, number one. And the most unvaccinated people in our society are our children in school,” said Rep. Crist.
Latest state data shows Polk County’s vaccination rate is 55% and there were 5,703 new cases of COVID-19 last week.
In lieu of a mask mandate, Superintendent Heid touted new air filtration systems that will be installed in every classroom over the next week.
“We have increased the air capacity and air flow in all of our buildings. We’ve also increased the frequency in which we change air filters,” said Heid.