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Hillsborough County School Board Passes Stricter Mask Mandate With Opt-Out Option

TAMPA, Fla. (CW44 News At 10) - The Hillsborough County school board voted to approve a more strict mask mandate for the district on Wednesday. This comes as the district is reporting that 10,722 students and staff are currently in quarantine or isolation.

The new mandate would require all students and staff to wear masks and a medical opt-out note would be required from a licensed doctor to not participate.

During the emergency meeting on Wednesday, parents voiced their opinions.

One public commentator said "Health is a personal responsibility, not the responsibility of schools, teachers, schools or any other public places."

Another parent said "I am asking the school board to do its job and protect our kids and the community at large. Mandate masks."

The debate over the new rule was passionate.

"Children deserve to see each other, to smile, to socialize, and to develop. The consequences may not be evident today, but will be in the future if we don't stop these divisive measures," said one parent.

"In over one week, 5,000 students have had disruption to their education and have had unnecessary exposures to those who have Coronavirus. This has a rippling effect on the children's hospitals in the area," said another parent.

Parents argued that students should be able to learn without having to worry about a mask on their face.

"With all due respect after 14 years, I know what's best for my children. You don't and I choose for them to breathe," said one parent during the meeting.

Another parent who lost her child to an illness that wasn't COVID-19 says the district should require masks for everyone because safety is the number one priority.

"I was in a hospital room. I had doctors tell me we did everything we can. I've been with a dead child before. We can save these children," she said.

The new mandate will last for 30 days beginning on Thursday and will be reviewed when those 30 days are up. Board member Nadia Combs who proposed the new mandate says she doesn't want students to have to wear masks, but health is her focus right now.

"I am very concerned about long-term speech therapy. That's why I was very intentional about the 30 days. I want schools to stay open. For me this is not political," said Combs.

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