SARASOTA COUNTY (WFLA) – Students in Sarasota County will return to school on Aug. 31. Some local teachers are worried about recent changes made to the district’s mask policy.
The new emergency policy amended this week states ‘all individuals, including students,
employees, visitors, and vendors must wear a face mask that covers both the nose and mouth at all times while at or inside any building, facility, or bus or other vehicle owned, leased, or operated by the School Board’.
There are a handful of exceptions, but there’s one in particular that some are worried about — the medical exemption.
According to the emergency policy, ‘a mask shall not be required for persons who present school officials with a certification from a licensed health care provider that the person has a medical, physical or psychological contraindication that prevents the person from being able to safely wear a face mask. If a person has a medical certification that he/she cannot wear a face mask, the person shall be required to wear a face shield unless the person also has a certification from a licensed health care provider that he/she has a medical, physical or psychological contraindication that prevents the person from also being able to safely wear a face shield’.
Longtime physical education teacher at Brookside Middle School Shawn Miller says he understands exceptions are necessary in certain cases, but he’s concerned about people abusing the mask exemption.
“It is a concern and mainly because, and I don’t wanna say this as a general statement for all doctors, but I am sure there is a doctor somewhere that will be OK just signing the piece of paper and they are exempt. Then it becomes a whole other issue, especially with our classes, because myself along with my other P.E. teacher, we have sometimes closer to 60 to 100 students in a small confined area. Even though it is a gymnasium, it is still a confined area,” said Miller.
Miller says he’s not comfortable having exempt students in his classes and wants to know how they can be removed for the safety and well-being of other students and staff.
“I would like for them to be somewhere where they could be safe and still get the education at the same time, but not potentially exposing everybody else in the process. I don’t want to isolate somebody, but at the same time I am trying to isolate in a way to where everybody else can be safe I don’t really know how I am going to do that without upsetting somebody, but I will have to walk that fine line and do the best I can,” said Miller.
8 On Your Side expressed Miller’s concerns to officials with the school district.
“As with any School Board policy, we hope that families & employees will adhere to the intended nature of the policy. Schools will assess each form to ensure that it has been properly & accurately filled out,” said district spokesperson Kelsey Whealy in an email to 8 On Your Side. “All employees are encouraged to reach out to their direct supervisor at their worksite to share any concerns or discuss additional, reasonable potential accommodations,” she wrote.
School Board Member Bridget Ziegler explains the last several months have been challenging for policymakers, teachers, and parents.
“I understand, from a staff standpoint, we want to make sure everyone is safe. From the community standpoint, we want to make sure everyone is safe. However, I think that we have to assess the risk also on the long term as well and the effectiveness of it,” said Ziegler. “My job is to evaluate the risks and understand our goal. Our mission is to obviously ensure safety and then also provide high-quality instruction for our children while also keeping staff and students safe,” she explained.
Ziegler is hopeful there won’t be issues with the exemption part of the emergency policy.
“I would like to believe that there are people within their profession so within the medical field and medical professionals that when someone comes to them and they have a need for whatever the reason and there are a myriad of reasons that they take their oath and responsibility in their profession seriously,” said Ziegler. I believe in the greater good of people, so I believe that that will happen,” she continued.
Ziegler says the emergency mask policy will be in effect for 90 days. Any possible tweaks or extensions will be brought forward in the fall.
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