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Districts in Tampa Bay still undecided about face masks for students next school year

No school district in Tampa Bay has specifically announced whether students will have to wear masks to campus for the 2021-22 school year.

PINELLAS COUNTY, Fla. — On Tuesday, Pinellas County Schools announced their face covering policy will end on the last day of the current spring semester.

That means face coverings will be optional for summer school students and likely into next year; however, on Wednesday, a spokesperson with the district clarified by telling 10 Tampa Bay, "The district’s position on masks is a flexible one. The superintendent is focused on the few weeks left in this school year. At this time, masks are optional for Summer Bridge. It’s a good transition period to see how well it works."

The e-mail from the school spokeswoman went on to say, "Meanwhile, it's a wait-and-see approach for the new school year. While the superintendent would like for masks to be optional for the 2021-2022 school year and that is the intent, if pandemic conditions take a turn for the worse by August the district may need to revisit the use of masks."

It appears the end of face masks in classrooms is in sight but that's not enough for some parents.

"It’s going to be 150 more hours in masks until the last day of school, June 9. That’s unacceptable. We want the masks to end today," said Aden Barnes, a Largo mom with three kids in Pinellas County schools.

Barnes pointed to directives from the Department of Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran and Governor's DeSantis' executive order issued Monday suspending all local pandemic emergency orders.

Corcoran sent a letter to superintendents last month asking them to enact voluntary face mask policies for the 2021-2022 school year.

The letter said, "the data shows us that districts' face covering policies do not impact the spread of the virus" but did not detail the evidence.

"I’m thankful our Governor and Education Director are looking at the data, looking at the research, looking at the science," said Barnes.

Tuesday in Miami, DeSantis doubled down on the state's decision to do away with restrictions saying, "I personally do not believe that the juice is worth the squeeze in terms of putting the masks on the kids at this juncture."

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention continues to recommend that, at this time, "masks be worn at all times, by all people in school facilities, with certain exceptions for certain people, or for certain settings or activities, such as while eating or drinking."

Dr. Thomas Unnasch, a Distinguished Health Professor at the University of South Florida is skeptical of the conclusion made by the Florida Commissioner of Education because Unnasch says there wasn't enough data collected.

RELATED: USF professor says the Dept. of Education's conclusion that mask 'policies do not impact the spread of the virus' is disingenuous

"It’s really easy to underpower a study and then say, well we never saw an effect. If you don’t have enough people enrolled or enough observations, chances are you’re not going to see an effect so you have to look at a lot more numbers, I think," said Unnasch.

The research didn't account for other factors like additional mitigation efforts taken by schools or how many children had COVID-19 but went undetected.

Here are the responses we got from other Tampa Bay school districts regarding face masks next school year:

Hillsborough:

A spokesperson with the school district said school leaders, "don't have a timeline on that yet- when it happens we will communicate with families." The spokesperson then provided a quote Superindent Addison Davis gave last week:

"We thank our students and staff for being vigilant this school year in following important protocols for the health and safety of everyone on our campuses. Our district will continue to work closely with public health experts and local government entities to reevaluate mask guidelines as we move toward next school year. Hillsborough County Public Schools has successfully implemented proper health protocols since the pandemic began with the help of TGH and USF Health, and we will continue to do so moving through the summer months."

Polk:

The school district released the following statement on face coverings for the remainder of the school year:

"PCPS will continue to require that students, staff and visitors wear face coverings on our campuses and in our office buildings for the remainder of the 2020-21 school year. We will also continue to practice social distancing, frequent sanitation of our facilities, and all other COVID-19 protocols that have been in place since the start of the school year."

"A decision regarding face coverings has not yet been made regarding the 2021-22 school year. PCPS leadership continues to discuss safety protocols for the upcoming school year. We are optimistic that in 2021-22, we will be much closer to normal. More information on 2021-22 safety protocols will be released over the summer."

For more information, please see the following link: https://polkschoolsfl.com/newsrelease/pcps-still-requires-face-coverings-for-remainder-of-2020-21-school-year/

Pasco:

"We haven’t made any announcements for next year, other than to say that our requirement expires at the end of this school year. We are optimistic that masks won’t be necessary next school year, and our planning is based on that," the school district said in a statement.

Manatee:

"Our School Board will discuss these issues at a School Board meeting on Tuesday, May 25," a spokesperson said in a statement.

"For the remainder of this school year, all current protocols are still in place, including wearing masks in all district facilities."

Sarasota:

The school district released the following statement:

"The district has not finalized any plans regarding face masks or mitigation efforts for next school year (2021-22). As for the rest of this school year, the School Board decided at their April 20 workshop to maintain the current face mask policy, as-is, until June 30th (the policy’s existing end date). The Board will revisit the discussion about face masks at the end of June."

"We are all hoping for as 'normal' a start to the 2021-22 school year as possible. As we monitor developments and guidance from the CDC and FLDOE, as well as recommendations from the local and state Department of Health, we will continue to perform our due diligence regarding district-wide plans."

RELATED: Tampa Bay area districts, parents and teachers react to Florida's 'voluntary face mask policy'

 

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