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Sarasota County Schools employee and student in masks
Sarasota Thursday, Sep. 2, 2021 1 month ago

Sarasota County School Board responds to state’s mask mandate investigation

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Although the Florida Department of Education has contended the mask requirement violates state regulations, the school district’s attorney argues it’s a permissible response to a health crisis.
by: David Conway Deputy Managing Editor

After Florida Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran announced an investigation into Sarasota County Schools for adopting a mask mandate, the school board’s attorney has submitted a response letter arguing the rule is a legal response to the current conditions associated with COVID-19.

In a letter dated Sept. 1, attorney Daniel DeLeo wrote that the mask requirement adopted Aug. 20 is a reasonable, narrowly tailored policy that serves a state interest. DeLeo said that satisfies requirements listed in the Parents’ Bill of Rights, a state law that Gov. Ron DeSantis has cited in his efforts to restrict school districts from mandating masks for students without any ability to opt out.

Responding to mask mandates adopted by Florida school districts, Corcoran has cited an emergency Florida Department of Health rule that more explicitly prohibits mask mandates. DeLeo asserted that rule is unlawful and school boards have the right to take actions related to the health and safety of students. DeLeo said the Sarasota school board’s decision came after officials heard expert testimony stating COVID-19 was significantly affecting local schools and health systems to a degree greater than any other time during the pandemic.

DeLeo wrote that the school board could not have pursued a less restrictive measure to achieve the same outcome, citing space constraints in schools and state restrictions on remote education or segregating maskless students. He also noted the district’s policy suspends the mask requirement if the positive rate fort tests in Sarasota County drops below 8%.

The letter concludes by asking the Florida Department of Education to either reconsider its position that the Sarasota mask policy is unlawful or suspend the investigation to await the outcome of legal challenges filed by other school districts who have asserted their right to implement a mandate. 

On Aug. 30, Corcoran announced the Department of Education would withhold monthly salaries for school board members in Alachua and Broward counties in response to mask mandates in those districts.

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