Florida, PTA survey parents on school face-mask rules

Orlando Sentinel | by Leslie Postal | October 21, 2020

What do Florida parents think of face mask requirements at their children’s schools? The state wants to know.

survey from the Florida Department of Education — put online by the Florida PTA — seeks to gauge whether parents have children in schools with face-mask rules and if they would be comfortable if those were scrapped.

About 15,000 people have taken the survey, which will remain open through Friday, PTA leaders said, and so far most support keeping face-covering requirements in place as a way to reduce spread of the coronavirus. Residents from 61 of Florida’s 67 counties have taken the survey to date.

The PTA collaborated with the education department on the survey because it wants to know what parents think about those rules, which the group also follows as they are recommendations of the CDC, said Jennifer Martinez, president of the Florida PTA.

“Advocacy is what we do,” she said. The state survey is a way to “gauge the pulse of our members, to see where they were, what their thoughts were,” she added. “Reopening has been tough on everyone.”

Many Florida school districts, including all local ones, adopted face-mask policies as part of their plans to reopen campuses in August. But across the state some parents have objected to those rules, and a few have filed lawsuits against face-mask mandates.

The survey posted on the Florida PTA’s page last Friday proved more popular than expected and also controversial, as some speculated the state would try to use the data to try to end local mask rules.

Gov. Ron DeSantis, who pushed schools to open in August, makes public appearances without wearing a face mask. At President Donald Trump’s rally in Sanford last week, DeSantis wore no mask and gave high-fives to attendees.

The survey asks parents about current face mask rules in their children’s schools, whether parents would be comfortable if those rules were eliminated, how worried they are about their child contracting the coronavirus at school and what protocols — cleaning routines and social distancing, for example — impact their views on how safe in-person classes are.

Angie Gallo, who is on the Florida PTA’s board of directors and also a member of the Orange County School Board, said she thought decisions about face masks would remain local ones. The Orange school board voted on rules to require face masks for students and staff, and she expected only a vote by the board would repeal them.

The education department, she added, did not give “any indication” it was hoping for a certain result from the survey.

Taryn Fenske, a spokeswoman for the education department, said it asked the PTA to distribute the survey because they represent Florida parents. “They have a great pulse on Floridians feelings about re-opening and recovery efforts,” she said in an email.

Martinez said the PTA posted the survey only on its Facebook page but it was still quickly shared and filled out by thousands. “We didn’t know it was going to a very popular survey,” she added.

Photo: Sign on the OCPS Academic Center for Excellence (ACE) middle school stairwell that states ‘Face masks are required’ on Thursday, August 6, 2020. (Ricardo Ramirez Buxeda/ Orlando Sentinel) (Ricardo Ramirez Buxeda/Orlando Sentinel)

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