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No decision from Hillsborough school board as parents protest district's continued mask mandate

Parents protested outside the board meeting, calling for an immediate end to the district's mask policy.

TAMPA, Fla. — Students and staff in Hillsborough County still need to mask up through the end of the current school year, though the question of what happens next year still is to be decided.

The issue of the district's mask policy took up much of the public comment period during the school board's meeting Tuesday, with most speakers against any sort of continuation of mask-wearing into the fall, or even for the remainder of this school year.

After several complaints the board was limiting the number of speakers, board members extended public comment.

Prior to the meeting, several dozen parents lined the sidewalk outside the administration building in downtown Tampa, holding signs and screaming in opposition to masks.

"Drop the masks and leave the parenting to us," one father told the board during public comment.

"The mandates fly in the face of natural law," another speaker said, asking the board if they wanted the students to be sheep or lions.

"Restore our rights, let our children breathe, let them roar."

"Students who have been e-learning this past year may have a difficult transition back to school if their peers aren't wearing masks," said one of the few speakers in support of continuing the mask mandate.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently announced it continues to recommend the current COVID-19 prevention strategies through the end of the school year. That includes "consistent and correct use of well-fitting face masks with proper filtration by all students, teachers, and staff to prevent SARS-CoV-2 transmission through respiratory droplets."

Health officials say they're basing the decision on the fact that most K-12 students won't be fully vaccinated in the next few weeks and it might take time for districts to make policy changes.

What comes next, however, will be decided "in the coming weeks," the CDC said.

Florida Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran in April asked districts not to make face masks mandatory during the 2021-22 school year. He wrote in a letter that there's a lack of evidence that linked mas mandates and the spread of COVID-19 in schools.

The letter did not, however, detail the specific evidence. 

"Upon reviewing the policies of those districts with mandatory face covering policies, reviewing all districts relevant health data, and factoring in such data points as the percentage of students learning in-person and the relative population of a county (which is often synonymous with a county’s community health resources), the data shows us that districts’ face covering policies do not impact the spread of the virus.," Corcoran's letter read, in part.

Hillsborough County school leaders did not make a decision Tuesday about what's next for the district's mask policy but an additional hearing on the issue is anticipated within the next few months.

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