Less than 24 hours before classes start, the Hillsborough County School Board will meet on Monday to discuss the highly controversial issue of masks.
No agenda had been posted by the end of the business day on Friday, and no description of the agenda was included in the announcement sent by the school district.
The notice simply said the council would discuss recent actions by Governor Ron DeSantis and the Florida Department of Health, and give members of the public an hour to speak.
The 10-hour meeting gives Superintendent Addison Davis the weekend to consider the plan to reopen the district, which has come under attack amid the rapid spread of new strains of COVID-19.
In the early afternoon, Davis told reporters: “We will strongly recommend masks in Hillsborough County public schools and make them optional.”
Likewise, the Pinellas County School Board called a special workshop at 1 p.m. Monday to discuss the state’s actions as well. Unlike the Hillsborough Gathering, the workshop format does not allow for public comment or formal voting.
“I look forward to the conversation,” said Caprice Edmond, Pinellas board member.
On both sides of the bay, some board members and voters are calling for special meetings before school starts on Tuesday in Hillsborough and Wednesday in Pinellas. In Pinellas, an online petition calling for a board meeting to discuss the masking drew more than 1,000 signatures.
“They are playing politics with the health of our children,” said Brad Rosenheim, the parent of two students at Midtown Academy in St. Petersburg. “My children wear their masks to ensure their safety and that of those around them. This is common sense, just like we don’t let people smoke cigarettes in school because it can harm others.
Both districts, like others in the state, are responding to a wave of recent state directives that followed DeSantis’ July 30 order banning school masking warrants.
In a morning conference call, the state Board of Education approved two new rules. The first says that during a quarantine, students cannot be counted as attending unless they have access to homework, materials and instructors. The second allows a student to apply for a state scholarship to a private school if they feel harassed in any way by COVID-19 protocols, including the measures some have suggested to separate students who don’t. do not wear masks.
Another set of instructions, issued by the state health ministry, were similar to the board of education rules, but with one key distinction in wording. The Health Ministry directive said: “Students can wear masks or face covers as a mitigation measure; however, the school must allow a parent or legal guardian of the student to refuse the student to wear a face cover or mask.
Davis acknowledged the possibility of opting out when speaking to reporters on Friday.
“But we only have a few days ahead of us for school,” Davis said. “Open, whether you implement this strategy rather than making them highly recommended and optional, the result becomes the same.”
Other complications could also arise, he said. “What if we impose it and a child doesn’t wear it?” “
Davis said board members are divided on how to proceed. He seemed in favor of maintaining the status quo.
“We open Tuesday,” he said. “We have to stay consistent in our approach. We must continue to make sure our families have a clear understanding of the direction in which we are going. He then qualified that statement by repeating, “This is going to be a smooth process. “
Hillsborough is found unusual among the state’s 67 districts in that it is on a financial recovery plan, which Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran ordered in April. If Hillsborough allows its main reserve account to fall below the state’s 2% requirement, then the state can assume control of the district’s finances. As DeSantis threatened to suspend funding to districts that defy his hiding order, Hillsborough executives are particularly protecting their financial position.
They are also aware that if students apply for scholarships from private schools because they feel harassed because of the masks, the district will lose even more money.
Anticipating that many families will be reluctant to send their children to school buildings, the district is reopening enrollment at Hillsborough Virtual K-12, the online school that has more than increased tenfold during the pandemic. Families can apply between Saturday at 7:00 a.m. and Monday at 11:59 p.m. at this link: www.bitly.com/HVK12APPLY.