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Pinellas County Schools 'strongly' recommends use of face masks

The school district has not mandated wearing face masks for the upcoming school year.

PINELLAS COUNTY, Fla. — Just a couple of days before welcoming students back to the classroom, 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 ahead of the start of the academic year, with masks made readily available in all schools.

School leaders made the decision to give families a choice and take the burden of enforcing masks off of teachers and staff.

The discussion Monday was in reaction to a recent rule adopted by the Florida Department of Education that would allow families to use Hope Scholarship vouchers to transfer their kids out of schools that place rules on mask-wearing or other coronavirus policies that cause a child to experience harassment.

The Hope Scholarship in Florida allows K-12 students who have been "bullied, harassed, assaulted, or threatened" to transfer to another public school or enroll in an "approved private school." 

This allows parents to take their children out of public school and place them in another school, including either a private school or a school in a different district. Parents are allowed to do this if their child is being "harassed" or faces "discrimination" from the school's COVID-19 policies, which include face mask mandates.

According to a draft of the Pinellas County district's wellness protocols, students "may wear masks or facial coverings as a mitigation measure; however, the school must allow for a parent or legal guardian of the student to opt-out the student from wearing a face-covering or mask."

Schools leaders also discussed student attendance and COVID-19 Hope Scholarship transfer vouchers. According to the school district, quarantine protocols for the 2021-22 school year will be the same as the year prior with the addition of one new guideline: A student who is fully vaccinated or has tested positive for COVID-19 in the last 90 days and is asymptomatic is not subject to quarantine guidelines, according to the school district.

RELATED: Florida DOE passes emergency rule allowing children to transfer schools due to 'COVID-19 harassment'

The new rule falls in line with Gov. Ron DeSantis' executive order banning schools from issuing mask mandates for students. 

However, despite that order, several school districts in Florida have defied it, risking the potential of losing school funding. 

One such district going against the governor's order is Hillsborough County Schools — sort of. They implemented a type of mask mandate for students that parents have the option to opt-out their students. Due to this choice for parents, Superintendent Addison Davis says the school district won't risk losing any funding. 

RELATED: Hillsborough County Schools leaders institute mask mandate — kind of