By LINDA CHION KENNEY
Hillsborough County public schools were set to open this week with a mandatory mask mandate for students whose parents have opted not to sign a permission form allowing them to do otherwise.
But don’t expect the debate over who controls the decision to mask or not to mask to end with a simple mandate that defies the intent of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who on July 30 signed an executive order against what he believes to be “unscientific and inconsistent recommendations that school-aged children wear masks.”
Upon signing the executive order in July, DeSantis said, “The federal government has no right to tell parents that in order for their kids to attend school in person, they must be forced to wear a mask all day. Many Florida schoolchildren have suffered under forced masking policies, and it is prudent to protect the ability of parents to make decisions regarding the wearing of masks by their children.”
But therein lies the rub, as many educators and parents do believe it is in the best interests of their children to wear masks, given the coronavirus pandemic is well within its fourth wave of disruption and causing record-breaking numbers of infections and hospitalizations in the process.
“While the outcome may be the same whether we make face coverings optional or required with an opt-out, we believe this decision [to mandate masks] continues to illustrate that Hillsborough County public schools take public safety seriously,” said Hillsborough superintendent Addison Davis, in a statement dated Aug. 7.
As of Aug. 9, Hillsborough’s mitigation requirement runs through Sept. 3 and requires students to wear face coverings. Again, parents and guardians, in turn, can opt their child out from wearing a face covering or mask. Schools were set to open Aug. 10. “We want to ensure we are doing all we can to help community-wide efforts to mitigate the spread of COVID-19,” Davis said.
Meanwhile, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has recommended universal masking in all schools as a key way to help mitigate the spread of the virus. Another measure is to vaccinate.
But there is a great divide between those who believe a vaccination is imperative and those who believe in any number of the reported arguments against receiving their doses, including those based on religious, ethical, safety, privacy and personal freedom concerns.