Pinellas County Schools sticking with mask-optional policy
Image via AP.

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Parents met before the meeting to encourage the board to enforce a mask mandate.

Students in Pinellas County will start the school year with the option to wear a mask or go without, with no opt-out forms required.

The Pinellas County School Board held a workshop Monday afternoon, where members discussed their options for masking policies. Pinellas County students return to school Wednesday.

While the Board decided not to pursue a mask mandate with an opt-out option, it will still “strongly recommend” students and teachers wear a face covering.

Pinellas County joins Manatee in its decision to leave masks optional. Neighboring Hillsborough County has instead issued a mask mandate but provides parents an “opt-out” option, which the state requires.

Before the meeting started, groups of parents gathered at a rally outside to encourage Board members to require masks. Signs included phrases like “wearing is caring,” and “wear a mask for me.” The Common Ground Project, St. Pete League of Women Voters, Mask Wearing Establishment; Indivisible FL-13, Fired Up Pinellas and 15K FL Voices for Vaccines hosted the rally.

Several Democratic political leaders joined in the rallies, including Reps. Ben Diamond and Michele Rayner-Goolsby and Eric Lynn, a former national security adviser for the Obama administration. All three are running to succeed U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist for Florida’s 13th Congressional District.

“I’m calling on the members of the Pinellas County School Board to do the right thing and require masks in schools for those who are unvaccinated,” Lynn wrote in a plea that ultimately went unanswered. “Our children and our community’s children’s lives are at stake. We know that masks are the most effective way at stopping the spread of the delta variant, let’s follow the science and save our children.”

During the meeting, School Board members were divided between plans of action, citing the likely indifferent outcome between the mandate with opt-out and optional policies.

“One size doesn’t fit well, even in the same family,” School Board member Lisa Cane, standing against the mandate, said. “We’ve heard the science change … Are we asking our staff to become the mask police?”

The Board is limited in its ability to require masks, since Florida Surgeon General Scott Rivkees signed a rule on Friday requiring schools to let parents or guardians “opt-out the student from wearing a face-covering or mask,” along with guidelines for COVID-19 symptoms, positives and exposures.

“The evidence is there, it’s not one way or another,” Superintendent Michael Grego said.

The State Board of Education also 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.

Kelly Hayes

Kelly Hayes studied journalism and political science at the University of Florida. Kelly was born and raised in Tampa Bay. A recent graduate, she enjoys government and legal reporting. She has experience covering the Florida Legislature as well as local government, and is a proud Alligator alum. You can reach Kelly at [email protected].


  • Andrew Finn

    August 9, 2021 at 7:34 pm

    What a shame. Over in Hillsborough County they have the guts to do what is right for the children of Florida by not bowing to the edicts of Emperor DeSantis and installing a mask mandate. Here in Pinellas County — well — no balls, just let the children go to school and hope they don’t get sick. The Emperor is so proud of you !!!!!!

    • VDog

      August 10, 2021 at 3:17 pm

      Andrew, another mis-informed person.
      Hillbourgh is option only. A student can opt out. Just like in Pinellas can wear one if you want. Option. Freedom Constitutional Rights. You know those dumb things

  • Ms. D.

    August 10, 2021 at 3:58 am

    I’m a teacher in Pinellas County. Given the option 2/3 to 3/4 of the parents, students, and teachers at my school chose to go without masks at our Open House last night. Insanity!

    • Andrew Finn

      August 10, 2021 at 8:41 am

      You got that right Ms D —— Unfortunately you will have to see what happens the hard way because our “no balls school board” here in Pinellas County is too afraid of the Emperor DeSantis to do the right thing. They will pay come election time, but our kids will pay in the hospital. Insanity ? – Yes !!!!!!

    • L. Riquetti

      August 10, 2021 at 9:37 am

      I’m so sorry the district won’t be protecting staff and children. Maybe you can move out to a state that cares or find a new profession. Florida doesn’t deserve your service.

    • Vdog

      August 10, 2021 at 3:11 pm

      Yes The Constitution is absurd. Right. You poor mis-guided and poorly medically informed teacher. I feel for you. You have my support to quit

    • Kristine V

      August 13, 2021 at 4:07 pm

      My son’s school had several cases reported today. My son is the only one out of 19 in his class who wears a mask. His classmate tested positive and their parents still sent them to school today UNMASKED. His teacher doesn’t wear a mask either because she is vaccinated but you can still pass the virus along even if you’re vaccinated. Now we are in quarantine. It’s disgusting and absolutely devastating as a parent to feel like I am backed into a corner. Stay safe in that classroom of yours!

  • Jaclyn Workman

    August 10, 2021 at 7:40 am

    Finally a school district supporting parents right to chose what’s best for their children. Everyone has a choice. I’d rather have a choice to do “what’s right” than be forced to do so. Teachers have enough to manage with their students and classes, adding in mask policing is crazy. Great job PCSB for not caving in.

  • Shawn

    August 10, 2021 at 3:34 pm

    Public safety measures are not “unconstitutional” when there is a real threat to public safety. Where in the world did anyone get that idea?

    • Andrew Finn

      August 10, 2021 at 6:19 pm

      Correct Shawn. Problem is our “ball- less board members are more afraid of Emperor DeSantis than they are about protecting the kids of Pinellas County. Election time will take care of that.

  • Dean Rabenstine

    August 10, 2021 at 3:54 pm

    Did the school board vote on this? If so, who was for and who was against? We need to know this when we vote for school board members.

    • Andrew Finn

      August 10, 2021 at 6:17 pm

      You got that right. I will be voting against any of those geniuses who voted against masks. They are more afraid of Emperor DeSantis than they are concerned for the kids they are supposed to protect.

  • Peggy

    August 11, 2021 at 5:38 pm

    Unfortunately, there are many people who receive their news, including information on Covid19, from social media sources, and that information is often misinformed, or misconstrued for political purposes. It doesn’t matter which side of the fence you are on. People will follow what confirms their opinions. But this is not a time for opinions.
    Last year schools followed the recommendations from health professionals and we saw far fewer absences for any reason. The recommendations work…it’s that simple. With few exceptions, the children and staff did fine with wearing masks. Arraignments were easily made for those who could not wear masks. Given the increase in numbers of infections, and most importantly those involving children, why are we not following the health professionals’ recommendations this year? Shamefully politics and money. Politics should not play a role in public health and safety.
    I am all for much of what DeSantis has implemented in other areas, but he is off the mark on this. It should be left to individual districts and counties to make the ruling….they know the numbers in their areas. And to threaten to withhold funding for those who decide to put the health of students and staff above politics is asinine.
    Wearing masks, and social distancing, offers some protection to everyone. By not doing so, the health risk to many is increased.
    Take a look at the latest from schools in Mississippi. It’s not rocket science.

  • Andrew Finn

    August 11, 2021 at 6:32 pm

    “Well, it’s 1-2-3 what are we fightin’ for —– be the first one on your block to have your kid come home in a box —- we ain’t got time to wonder why, whoopie we;re all gonna die” !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! ——– (Remember?)

  • Peggy

    August 17, 2021 at 8:31 pm

    I want to see photos of the protesters and their signs. My daughter, was there with friends. She called me on her way to work after the protest, before this article was published. She was protesting for medical freedom. She told me there were about 60 protesters there… EVERYONE OF THEM WERE AGAINST MASKING THE CHILDREN!
    Not 1 person was there asking the board to require masks. She said as the school board arrived, the crowd was yelling at the members that they knew were going to vote for mask mandates. And those members KNEW the crowd was going to be against them, and even had police escorts, who literally carried their purses and donuts for them! How do you get away with printing this absolute lie?!?

  • greg davidson

    August 18, 2021 at 11:21 pm

    TRULY SICK…. Wearing masks. should not be a (dumb) parent’s ‘right’. Many vaccines are required, a school child needs to ask permission to leave class to go to a bathroom, you can’t smoke in school…. Schools have rules to protect everyone.
    These respected organizations say WEAR MASKS =
    > Mayo clinic reqqires everyone weaar masks on campuses and states wearing a mask is effective/safe way to lesse the sread of viruses. ( )
    > The American Medical Assoc says wear masks ( )
    > Johns Hopkins says wear masks ( )
    > Duke Medical school says: wear masks ( ).
    > Univ Michigan Medical School says, wear masks ( )

    From where/who does Gov (Death)Santis get information that parents know more than the above Physicians and Virologists?

Comments are closed.


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