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Sarasota, Orange School Boards Vote To Make Masks Optional

The Florida Channel
Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.

Sarasota Board Chair Shirley Brown said the ruling also "makes clear that somebody is not to be harassed if they are wearing or not wearing a mask.”

Sarasota and Orange county school boards have voted to make face masks optional on campus for the fall.

The votes come as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention relaxed certain COVID-19 guidelines for schools, recommending that vaccinated teachers and students don’t need to wear masks inside school buildings.

However, the federal guidance generally leaves it to local officials to figure out how to ensure the unvaccinated are using precautions while letting those who are fully protected go mask-free.

The Sarasota County School Board vote was unanimous, and the optional policy is for students, teachers, and all other faculty, and also those who have not received a vaccine.

Board Chair Shirley Brown said the ruling also "makes clear that somebody is not to be harassed if they are wearing or not wearing a mask.”

With regard to the delta variant and its potential to spread within the classrooms, board Vice Chair Jane Goodwin said the ruling may be tweaked to cooperate with the students’ and faculty’s safety.

“In the future, if we have the delta variant that continues, if we have cases that escalate, we may look at other things such as the CDC guidelines and we may look at the disparity between those vaccinated and those who are not,” Goodwin said. “We do have cases escalating in Florida again. There are going to be situations where we’re in large group settings and masks may be appropriate again.”

The vote followed several comments from citizens who shared their questions, comments and concerns.

Sarasota County School Board Meeting 07132021

On Thursday, the Orange County School Board voted 7-1 to make masks optional.

Board member Linda Kobert spoke in favor of making masks optional, noting that they are not required in every other public and private space in the county.

“If we were to continue the mask mandate, our children would be the only citizens in Orange County left under a mask mandate. No other citizens in Orange County exist under that mandate,” Kobert says.

Kobert says families with medical concerns should consult with their physicians.

Board member Johanna López says that as a mother, she thinks it should be up to each parent to decide, but she and other board members voted to keep an amendment that would allow Superintendent Barbara Jenkins to reinstate a mask mandate if necessary.

“So even though I will be voting in favor of the optional masking, because I trust that if something happened with the numbers in the county, we will be very assertive in having that meeting and go back to the masking, because it’s about life, it’s not about political issues at this point” she says.

Jenkins says she would consult with the board along with Dr. Raul Pino, the county's director for the state Department of Health, before making a decision to reinstate a mandate. 

Orange County is experiencing a surge in COVID-19 cases caused by the spread of the delta variant, health and government officials say.

Health News Florida's Leonardo Santos and Danielle Prieur contributed to this report.

Copyright 2021 WMFE. To see more, visit WMFE.

Originally founded in December 2006 as an independent grassroots publication dedicated to coverage of health issues in Florida, Health News Florida was acquired by WUSF Public Media in September 2012.