ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — It's the back-to-school season in Florida and as kids return to in-person learning after predominantly being kept at home in 2020, the state is once again battling high transmission rates and a surge in COVID-19 cases.
In an effort to limit the virus' spread, school districts are keeping certain health protocols and social distancing in place but there's one thing they can't implement — masks.
That's due to an executive order from Gov. Ron DeSantis banning such mandates and instead letting parents decide if their child should mask up or not in the classroom. School districts that defy the order risk losing funding.
The Department of Education also passed an emergency rule allowing parents to transfer their kids out of school if they face "COVID-19 harassment," such as being required to wear masks.
With Tampa Bay area schools open for the year, here's how to track cases of COVID-19 that have been reported in your student's district:
Hillsborough County: On Aug. 18 the school board voted 5-2 to approve a 30-day mask mandate with an opt-out available to students for medical reasons as long as they submit a doctor's note. The topic will be revisited in Sept. to see if board members wish to extend the requirement.
To see the latest data from the Hillsborough dashboard, click here.
Pinellas County: Pinellas County Schools leaders decided an opt-out approach to masks would not be recommended. Instead, it will be a parent's choice on whether to mask their student. Masks are being made readily available in all schools.
Click here to search for cases by school campus.
Pasco County: The school district has "not changes [its] position" and is not manding masks for students or in workplaces.
Click here for the latest information on cases in Pasco.
Sarasota County: On Aug. 20 the school board voted 3-2 to approve a 90-day mask mandate with no opt-outs except for medical exemptions. The school district says it does have "protocols for controlling COVID-19" in place. Anyone who feels sick is asked to stay home, while schools are asked to encourage routine cleaning of classrooms and high-traffic areas.
The district launched its own coronavirus tracking dashboard for cases in schools. You can access it by clicking here.
Polk County: Face coverings remain optional across the school district but are "strongly" encouraged. Several COVID-19 health and safety protocols like hand sanitizer stations, practicing proper hygiene and social distancing will be in place in schools.
The school district has launched a COVID-19 dashboard with "current information available on how the pandemic is impacting our schools." You can access it here.
Manatee County: Masks will be temporarily mandated until Aug. 25 with an opt-out option for parents. The change in policy was decided by a 3-2 vote from school district leaders following the first week of school. Protocols from the 2020-2021 school year are being reintroduced after leaders evaluated the number and types of cases that have been recorded at schools.
The school district has its own COVID-19 dashboard. You can view it here.
Citrus County: The school district will not be mandating masks but said face coverings will be available on all school busses and at all school sites.
The district launched its own coronavirus tracking dashboard for cases in schools. To see the latest data, click here.