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Sarasota School Board Adopts Stricter Mask Policy: No Gaiters Or Scarves Allowed

Dr. Brennan Asplen, the superintendent of Sarasota County schools, speaks at a workshop on Tuesday
Sarasota County Schools/screenshot
Dr. Brennan Asplen, the superintendent of Sarasota County schools, speaks at a workshop on Tuesday

In its last meeting before schools reopen on August 31, the Sarasota County School Board adopted a stricter mask policy, and heard from local health department officials Tuesday that cases of coronavirus in the area are trending downward.

The board voted 3-2 for changes that require students to wear face masks, not "face-coverings" as the previous policy had stated, which would have allowed students a choice between masks or shields.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention does not recommend clear plastic face shields as a substitute for masks, which the federal health agency says are more effective at protecting against the spread of coronavirus.

The new Sarasota policy calls for students to wear masks made of solid material, unless they get a medical waiver, in which case a shield could be substituted.

A doctor’s waiver could also be sought so that a student doesn't have to wear any face covering at all.

Board members discuss a new mask policy in Sarasota
Credit Sarasota County School Board
Board members discuss a new mask policy in Sarasota

Board member Shirley Brown wishes that people don’t abuse that option.

“I would hope that only doctors would do that if there is a medical reason, but I know there are people out there who have political reasons for not wearing a mask. But then it becomes, what about the rest of the class? What about their rights? What about their health?”

Bandanas, gaiters, and buffs are not allowed under the new policy, which passed despite board members Eric Robinson and Bridget Ziegler voting against it.

Ziegler said she believes it will be hard for the youngest children in school to wear a mask all day.

"I won't be supporting it truly because I believe that - I would have liked to see some accommodations in a deeper way for K through 2," said Ziegler.

A majority of students will be returning for in-person instruction
Credit Sarasota County School Board
A majority of students will be returning for in-person instruction

Although infectious disease expert Manuel Gordillo of Sarasota Memorial Hospital was on hand for the beginning of the workshop, no school board members attempted to ask him any questions until more than an hour later, after he had already left. 

Sarasota Health Department officer Chuck Henry told the board that cases of coronavirus in Sarasota are on the decline. Over the past two weeks, he said the county's positive test rate has been around 5.5%. It would be 4.5%, if excluding cases in the local jail.

Global health experts say this rate should stay below 5% for two weeks before schools reopen. 

Henry said the overall pediatric positive rate in the county is 8.6%over the past two weeks.

Board member Jane Goodwin said she is concerned about the numbers.

"We should have pediatric cases under five (percent), I see from the department of health's summary every Friday, it's ten (percent)," she said, referring to reports dating back to July.

"I'm concerned about it. I'm concerned with us going back to school that we will have a great spread in our community. But we are going back to school because, um, because we are," Goodwin said.

"And because we know from Hillsborough County and from Monroe County and how they attempted to do other things that it didn't meet with the Department of (Education) and the governor very well. So I'll leave that at that."

Copyright 2020 WUSF Public Media - WUSF 89.7

Kerry Sheridan is a reporter and co-host of All Things Considered at WUSF Public Media.