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Hillsborough Schools will not mandate masks this upcoming year, superintendent says

Addison Davis discussed new initiatives and "continuing COVID protocols" at a news conference Wednesday.

RIVERVIEW, Fla. — Editor's note: The above video is from a previous story. 

Hillsborough County Schools are set to welcome students back to the classroom next week.

In preparation of the new school year, Superintendent Addison Davis held a back-to-school news conference at 11 a.m. Wednesday at Rodgers Middle Magnet School in Riverview. 

He spoke about "new initiatives" the district is taking. And, he spoke on the district's "continuing COVID protocols" amid a surge of record-breaking new cases and hospitalizations in Florida and the Tampa Bay area. 

Davis said while the district will be following CDC guidelines and will encourage mask-wearing, Hillsborough County Schools will not mandate masks for students. 

This is because of Gov. Ron DeSantis' recent executive order that bans Florida schools from doing so and threatens to pull funding from schools that defy the order. Davis mentioned the district cannot risk the loss of funding, as it just narrowly avoid a state financial takeover. 

Still, the superintendent says safety protocols will be implemented, such as social distancing where possible and cleaning measures. Parents will also have the choice to send their kids to school with masks if they so choose. 

The news conference comes a day after the district announced half of its listed "failing" schools have improved. In a release Tuesday, Hillsborough Schools said 14 of its 28 schools rated as "D" or "F" have improved to at least a "C" or better grade, according to recently released FSA data. 

RELATED: Half of 'D,' 'F'-rated Hillsborough County Schools no longer failing, district says

Earlier this year, the school district said it would not be offering online learning this year, nor would it make masks mandatory in the classroom. 

Last month Gov. Ron DeSantis issued an executive order effectively banning school districts in Florida from implementing mask mandates. School districts that defy the order could face funding cuts. 

At least one school district has mandated masks, while another has reversed course in light of the recent order. 

RELATED: Florida school districts require masks, defying Gov. DeSantis' order

Recently, a group of 200 doctors wrote a letter to Hillsborough County Schools urging them to make masks mandatory in the classroom. 

A local pediatrician spoke with 10 Tampa Bay and said she has seen a significant increase of children with COVID-19 symptoms in her office. 

Throughout the pandemic, we've heard that COVID-19 doesn't affect children as much as older people, but the delta variant is changing what we know about the virus.

The hundreds of Tampa Bay area doctors that have signed onto the masking message reiterate the fact that for children under 12, masks are the only layer of protection from the virus available.

RELATED: As Tampa Bay area kids ready for new school year, doctors encourage masks worn in classrooms