SARASOTA COUNTY, Fla. — The Sarasota County School Board voted 3-2 to temporarily enforce a mask mandate across the district on Friday during an emergency meeting.
Board members voted to have the mandate in place for 90 days with the opportunity for medical exemptions. It will apply to all students and staff.
The policy would be suspended if the county's positivity rate falls below 8 percent for three straight days. It would be reinforced if the positivity rate rises to 10 percent.
Two additional options were on the table for school board members to choose from but were ultimately passed over.
“I would hope that we could all work together on this," Chair Shirley Brown said.
Superintendent Dr. Brennan Asplen also called for parents in the district to come together no matter the outcome as tensions were high during the meeting. He also asked school board members to be "careful not to break the law."
The night before the mask mandate goes into effect, the school system sent out COVID-19 Face Covering Certification paperwork that parents can have a doctor fill out in order to opt their child out of wearing a face-covering in school.
Several warnings were issued to those in attendance who periodically interrupted the meeting before at least a handful of people were removed by officers.
“We will clear you from the room if you continue to laugh and harass," Brown said.
Ahead of public comment, all school board members exited the meeting after emotions flared over limitations placed on those in attendance's time at the podium. A recess followed to allow for the situation to calm down.
A majority of speakers voiced their dissent of masks for their students, while some did offer their support for a full mask mandate with or without an opt-out option.
The emergency meeting was initially set to address concerns about a growing number of COVID-19 cases among students and staff. Operational challenges brought on by coronavirus cases in the district's schools and ways to further mitigate the virus were also discussed.
District leaders are concerned about the county's COVID positivity rate which has nearly hit 15-percent. They are also worried about schools having to possibly shut down due to essential teaching and operational staff being out sick with the virus or quarantined.
At a public meeting Tuesday, the superintendent of schools said they were at a breaking point. A local health expert called the situation a crisis and recommended mandatory masking with no opt-outs.