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Sarasota County School Board Votes To Require Masks

Sarasota County School Board
The Sarasota County School Board voted 3-2 Friday to require masks for the next 90 days.

The mandate allows opt-outs only for medical reasons or for special needs students on Individual Education Plans who can't wear masks.

After nearly 50 parents, educators and health care professionals spoke during the public comment period, the Sarasota County School Board voted 3-2 to require students to wear masks in class for the next 90 days.

The decision, which came after a meeting of more than five hours, allows for an opt-out exemption for students with a doctor's note or special needs students on an Individualized Education Plan.

Sarasota joins Hillsborough, Broward, Miami-Dade, Palm Beach and Alachua counties, which approved similar mask rules to protect against COVID-19. All are in defiance of a governor's executive order that requires parents to decide whether their children wear masks.

Bridget Ziegler, who voted against the mask requirement, said she agrees with COVID-19 mitigation measures, but not those that could go against the executive order.

"I don't believe we need to be spending that money in courtrooms, I think it deserves to be in classrooms,” Ziegler said.

The school board's mandate will rescinded if the positivity rate drops below 8 percent for three consecutive days — and reinstated if it rises above 10 percent for three consecutive days.

Jane Goodwin, who voted for the mask requirement, said it's the board's responsibility to provide a safe environment for children to learn.

“We must mitigate masks, we must mitigate social distancing in our schools,” Goodwin said. “And every effort that we instilled last year must be doubled down on — particularly this year.”

Most of the public commenters wore white stickers on their shirts that said, “This is child abuse” with illustrations of masked children.

Several called the three mask options the board was debating “medical tyranny,” “muzzling of our kids,” and even “segregation.”

Most of the parents refused to choose an option, including one that would have made masks entirely optional but with opt-out paperwork.

All of the sticker-wearers who addressed the board said they’d be sending their children to school without masks regardless of what the board decided.

The board recessed multiple times to address hecklers and other outbursts.

Five parents wearing masks spoke in favor of mandatory masking, with Carol Learner pleading to the board to “stand on the right side of history.”

According to Michael Drenning, an epidemiologist with the Florida Department of Health in Sarasota, the county's positivity rate for tests returned by the state Friday was at 23.06% and averaged 15.41% over the last 14 days.

Two lawsuits against the state, including one in federal court, are playing out as to whether Gov. Ron DeSantis’ executive order is unconstitutional. A three-day hearing in one of those cases is scheduled to start Monday.

Copyright 2021 WUSF Public Media - WUSF 89.7

Daylina Miller is a multimedia reporter for WUSF and Health News Florida, covering health in the Tampa Bay area and across the state.