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Parents make the call on school masks for next academic year

Sarasota School Board makes clear masks are optional for 2021-22 but backs off from requiring teachers to enforce parents' wishes.

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  • | 1:12 p.m. June 8, 2021
Face masks will be optional for the 2021-22 school year. Parents will decide what is best for their child.
Face masks will be optional for the 2021-22 school year. Parents will decide what is best for their child.
  • Sarasota
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Face masks will be optional in Sarasota County schools for the 2020-21 school year. 

After weeks of debate, school board members moved ahead with a policy that would allow students and staff to decide whether to wear a face mask while on school campuses. 

The policy change, approved June 1, has to be advertised for 30 days, so it will not officially be enacted until a board meeting in July. The rule that makes masks mandatory on school property will expire June 30. 

Instead of just allowing the policy to expire, several board members wanted to make sure students and staff who preferred to wear a mask were allowed to do so.

“I think what we’ve seen in many places, not just schools, is that there are different opinions,” board member Bridget Ziegler said. “What I don’t want is teachers or students or staff to have any issue … this should be something that it’s very clear. They’re optional and therefore, they can’t be denied either way.” 

Consistent with Gov. Ron DeSantis’ executive orders, the district cannot consider an individual’s vaccination status when interpreting the policy. It must solely be the parent’s decision.

Patrick Duggan, the district’s attorney, said the policy would need to be adjusted to determine what is or isn’t an allowed face covering. Under the proposed policy, allowed face coverings include a medical or “COVID-style” mask or a clear face shield. 

Gaiters, buffs and bandanas may not be worn as an alternative. Those who choose to wear masks must supply them themselves, and any mask must not cover the individual’s eyes such that they cannot easily be identified. 

Forms will be distributed to parents to elect whether their child wears a face mask and schools will monitor whether students wear the masks in conformance with the instruction given by their parents. 

The initial policy stated that should a student fail to wear the mask in conformance with parental instruction, the student’s parents will be notified. Although board members supported the optional policy, many were concerned with placing an additional burden on teachers. 

“I think that we need to have some assurances that teachers are focusing in on instruction,” board member Karen Rose said. 

Duggan said when writing the policy, attorneys tried to strike a balance between enforcing the policy and making an overly burdensome requirement on teachers. He suggested teachers could have an attendance sheet with notation of what each child is supposed to wear and keep note of whether the child is conforming. 

However, Superintendent Brennan Asplen said a daily check-in may be too much for teachers. Instead, he suggested concerned parents should ask teachers in their regular check-in emails. 

“I just want to make sure we’re not putting an additional burden on our teachers in any fashion because they already have enough to do,” Asplen said. 

Ultimately, the board removed language from the policy that required teachers to monitor whether students are wearing the masks in conformance with parental instruction. 

In addition to guidelines for those who chose to wear a mask, the policy also lays out warnings against bullying. 

“We made it very clear that anyone wearing a mask will not be subject to bullying, harassment, intimidation, pressure, hostility or retaliation regarding that decision,” Duggan said. 



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