The Hillsborough County school superintendent Addison Davis announced Saturday that it will require face coverings as the school year approaches. But, parents will be provided an option to let their children opt out of the mask requirement.
Parents who do not want their child to wear a mask will be required to fill out the HCPS Mask Opt-Out Form for each student. The district plans to keep these requirements in place until at least Sept. 3.
The district was set to hold an emergency meeting on Monday about masks, but the meeting has been canceled following Saturday’s update. In a statement, Davis said that the decision comes “based on new feedback provided by board members and to avoid a last-minute decision next week for families.”
Davis also acknowledged in his statement that the opt-out policy will likely provide the same outcome as a mask-optional rule.
“While the outcome may be the same whether we make face coverings optional or required with an opt-out, we believe this decision continues to illustrate that Hillsborough County Public Schools takes public safety seriously,” Davis said in a statement. “We want to ensure we are doing all we can to help communitywide efforts to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.”
For staff members, the district is keeping masks optional while “highly recommending” employees wear them. The school year starts on Tuesday in Hillsborough County, and the district will continue to work with Tampa General Hospital and USF Health.
The update also comes amid increasing cases of COVID-19 in the county, most recently reporting 8,583 new cases in the last week.
The policy mirrors that of Duval County schools, providing an opt-out option for parents who do not want their child to wear a mask.
School mask mandates have become a hot topic among Floridians in the past week.
On Friday, Surgeon General Scott Rivkees signed a rule requiring schools to let parents or guardians “opt-out the student from wearing a face-covering or mask,” along with rules for COVID-19 symptoms, positives and exposures.
The State Board of Education released a proposed emergency rule after Gov. Ron DeSantis ordered a prohibition on mask mandates in schools last week. DeSantis is facing pushback from parents of children with disabilities, who are suing over the required opt-out option.
That rule will allow public school students facing mask mandates to be given school vouchers to transfer schools, and students could receive protection from “harassment” based on their decision whether to wear masks.
The rule includes a definition for “COVID-19 harassment” as targeted conduct against students stemming from a school district’s COVID-19 protocols. The list of prohibited protocols includes mask requirements, separating or isolating students, or providing COVID-19 testing requirements.
According to the Board of Education, such protocols “pose a health or educational danger” to students and lead to learning loss.