SARASOTA COUNTY (WFLA) – Sarasota County Schools could lose millions in state funding over its decision to enforce a mask mandate last fall. At the time, the only way students could be excused from wearing a face covering was with a medical mask exemption form signed by a licensed provider.

In late August, 8 On Your Side was in Venice when a local chiropractor kept his doors open late to sign forms for parents across Sarasota County free of charge. There was a line around the building for hours.

The next day, Sarasota County Schools announced, in an effort to prevent abuse, they would only accept medical mask exemption forms signed by medical doctors, osteopathic physicians or advanced registered nurse practitioners.

8 On Your Side obtained redacted copies of nearly 2,200 exemptions forms submitted to the district last year. Our team spent hours going through the forms and found more than one-third were signed by four individuals over a short period of time.

Osteopathic physician and dermatologist Dr. Patricia Stewart signed more than 310 exemption forms. More than half were dated Sunday, Sept. 12. We contacted Dr. Stewart’s Sarasota office, but we were told she had no comment.

Chiropractor Dr. Danny Busch signed more than 180 forms submitted to Sarasota County Schools. The data shows his colleagues at Twin Palms Chiropractic in Venice, Dr. Mark Carrano and Dr. Darren Edmonds, signed another 135 forms combined. Dr. Busch’s attorney told 8 On Your Side in an email, “Dr. Busch and the other medical professionals at Twin Palms Chiropractic have no comment.”

Based off the forms we obtained, nurse practitioner Natalie Iverson signed more than 135 forms. All were dated Sunday, Sept. 12. We contacted her employer to see if she was available for comment and asked how the licensed medical professional was able to perform more than 130 exams in one day. We received this statement in response from a company spokesperson:

“Natalie Iverson, APRN, acted independently and did not request our authorization. Her actions should not be interpreted in any way as the guidance followed by Millennium Physician Group.”

Physician assistant James Dellavecchia signed more than 125 forms submitted to schools across Sarasota County last year. After receiving no response to multiple emails and phone calls to his employer, Kennedy-White Orthopaedic Center, 8 On Your Side stopped by the offices on Cattleridge Boulevard on Wednesday. We were told the office has “no response” to our messages.

While some people were grateful for the medical providers for their help last year, others were not. We spoke with three individuals who told 8 On Your Side they filed complaints with the state against the medical providers we’ve named.

Licensed mental health counselor William Anderson says he filed two state complaints. He was concerned by the number of forms signed over a short period of time and is questioning their legitimacy to the state.

Two providers signed more than 130 forms in one day, according to the forms obtained by 8 On Your Side.

“How did they sign so many in such a short period of time?” questioned Anderson. “Saying that they have examined these people and they know they have medical issues that contraindicate wearing a mask is just not believable. How could they see that many people in eight hours and know them intimately, as far as their medical history. It doesn’t seem possible at all. I am willing to hear what the explanation is. I could be wrong, maybe for some reason it was legitimate and these were all that person’s patients. I want to hear what the explanation is.”

Janet Bryan also submitted complaints with the state, aimed at the three providers at Twin Palms Chiropractic in Venice.

“I did submit copies of the signed mask mandate exemption forms and really the reason why I did that is to show in black and white how it was physically impossible to examine and indicate via signature that particular patient should not wear masks in school,” Bryan said. “These providers who signed a large volume should be held accountable. Not only are they doing the wrong thing for the community, they are doing the wrong thing for these parents and the children and, I think, harming them even further.”

Other licensed providers that signed forms submitted to the district included podiatrists, dentists, massage therapists, acupuncturists, social workers, midwives and gynecologists – including one who is also facing a complaint filed with the state. We reached out to Dr. Tammy Birbeck’s office for comment. Her attorney, who also represents Dr. Danny Busch, told 8 On Your Side Dr. Birbeck has no comment.

The data we gathered shows the majority of forms were signed by chiropractors, dermatologists, and pediatric specialists.

Officials with the Florida Dept. of Health could not tell us how many complaints it has received or if it plans to take action against any practitioner until 10 days after probable cause is found.  

A Sarasota County Schools spokesperson told us, “families that were out of compliance after the update to the medical exemption requirements were notified and given time to gather the proper paperwork should they still wish to pursue an exemption. Medical certifications were collected by schools and only brought to the district when found to be out of compliance. I’m not aware of the school district denying any certifications after the medical exemption requirements were updated.”