Sarasota Sixth District To Mandate Masks In Class

Todays News

A divided Sarasota County School Board on Friday voted to defy Gov. Ron DeSantis and enact a mandate for nearly all teachers and students in area schools to wear masks for the next 90 days. That came the same day Department of Health data showed a positivity rate of about 15.7% of tests for COVID-19 in the county and 19.8% in the state.

“When I voted for optional (mask wearing), the positivity rate was at 2% in the county,” said School Board member Tom Edwards. “That was 45 days ago.”

The board also included provisions to drop the requirement if positivity rates decline. The policy also allows parents of children with medical conditions that make wearing a mask impossible to opt out, but that option won’t be available to the vast majority of families. But while school officials started the year without any mandate — and apparently no hunger to defy an executive order from the Governor banning such mandates —a surge in cases spurred by the delta variant to the coronavirus changed matters.

School Board member Shirley Brown, a former state lawmaker, said she believed the Governor was overstepping the law in saying the board could not respond to health crisis with a mitigation strategy like masks. “There is a compelling interest,” she said. “The CDC (Centers for Disease control) shows it. The hospital is begging us to take action.”

But School Board member Bridget Ziegler, appearing at the meeting remotely, said she considered a mandate to be stepping on parents’ intrinsic right to make health decisions regarding their children. She cited a parents' bill of rights she lobbied on behalf of for four years before its passage this year. “What I think is right for me and my children does not invalidate what anyone else believes is right for their children,” she said. That ultimately should mean parents can decide if they want their children wearing masks at school, she said.

For his part, DeSantis at an appearance in Manatee County on Saturday criticized the Sarasota board and said the decision in fact violated the law by going against his order and not allowing any parent to opt out of a policy. The Board of Education has said the same thing.

“It violates the Parents Bill of Rights in Florida, which is state law,” DeSantis said.

Of note, the Sarasota School Board, while a nonpartisan entity, saw all three Democrats on the board favor a mandate and the two Republicans vote against it. Sarasota is the sixth Florida county to vote in favor of a mandate without any opt-out.

 

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