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Sarasota students are no longer required to wear masks in schools

Before the Sarasota County School Board's repeal, masks were required if the positivity rate rose to about 10 percent, and optional if it fell below 8 percent for three consecutive days.

The Sarasota School Board voted unanimously Tuesday night to repeal a temporary emergency face mask rule based on county percent positivity rates.

Before the repeal, face masks were required if the positivity rate rose to about 10%, and optional if it fell below 8% for three consecutive days.

Last week's positivity rate for Sarasota County was 2.8%.

School board member Tom Edwards says he knows masks don't necessarily prevent COVID-19, but acknowledges they helped to bring the rates down.

“I just thought a temporary mask mandate for a period of time to protect us while we were in a surge was worthwhile” Edwards said. “And I will do it again if our numbers go up.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention still recommends children wear masks to class. Children under 12 are not yet eligible for vaccination.

A couple of school board members expressed concerns about ongoing legal costs, especially after the Florida Department of Health issued a revised rule last month that gives parents more authority to decide whether children should go to school after being exposed to people who have COVID-19, and says opting out of mask requirements is “at the parent or legal guardian’s sole discretion.”

Chair Shirley Brown said, considering the new quarantine policy, that mitigation efforts moving forward should be based on the number of students testing positive in the schools, not on county positivity rate.

Over 1,000 students a week, 200 a day, were testing positive when the mask a mandate was first passed in August. Last week it was 51.

“If we need to take actions, rather than perhaps having another mask mandate, there might be some other actions that we could take more surgically,” Brown said.

School board member Karen Rose made a plea to parents, teacher and students not to harass anyone regardless of whether they wear a mask or not.

“That is just totally inappropriate,” Rose said. “And it's bullying according to our policies. And we don't want to have to take another complaint about ‘a teacher said this to a child’ or ‘another child said this’ because it's optional.”

“Those who want to preserve their health and feel they need to definitely can wear a mask right now and shouldn't be picked on for wearing one - they're not sissies. And the ones who aren't wearing a mask, they don't hate you.”

The Hillsborough County School Board also eased its mask mandate, giving parents the option of whether their children must wear masks in schools.

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.