Pinellas schools to stick with masks, health protocols for now

Tampa Bay Times | by Jeffrey S. Solochek | April 13, 2021

Masks will remain a part of daily life in Pinellas County schools for the foreseeable future, despite the repeated demands by some to end the mandate.

Superintendent Mike Grego said Tuesday that the medical advisors he relies upon have recommended continuing the health safety protocols the district currently has in place. The daily coronavirus infection count is on the rise from a month ago, Grego noted, as is the daily positivity rate.

Within a month “they will be able to give us greater guidance,” he said of the advisors, adding that the county has not yet vaccinated 50 percent of its residents.

Ideally, Grego said, he would like to be able to say that everything in the fall will be headed back to the way things used to be before the pandemic.

“I can’t even say that yet for this summer,” he told the School Board during a morning meeting. “We need to get through this school year first.”

Opposition to the district’s mask rules have long existed in the district, which has a strong anti-mask contingent. Questions about the direction it might take resurfaced in recent weeks as the Pasco County school district announced it might end its mandate as early as the end of April.

More than 50 residents turned out to speak at Tuesday’s board meeting, with almost all urging the board to unmask and return to normality. They said many more stayed outside to protest, and their numbers will grow.

With the requirements in place, students “are getting a loud and clear message to see others as illness spreaders rather than as classmates and friends,” parent Sarah Cotton said. “It’s a constant reminder to be afraid.”

Some referred to their own collected research and observations of their children. Others invoked the truth of God, and the need to seek wisdom in religion, suggesting the public is being deceived.

Several said parents should get to choose whether their children wear masks.

“The quote experts have failed our children monumentally,” parent Gary Posh told the board. “On the subject of children and masks, there are no experts. Only common sense.”

By contrast, Pinellas teachers union president Nancy Velardi praised the district for its reliance on the medical expertise.

School officials have “put the safety of their employees and students front and center, and have never wavered,” Velardi said. “It is imperative that this policy remain in place for the remainder of this year.”

Board members indicated that they will continue to discuss the issue, and expected to hold a workshop on it next week.

Photo: Students in the Pinellas County school district have been required to wear masks on campus since in-person classes resumed in fall 2020. The district has no plan to end the mask mandate at this point, superintendent Mike Grego said Tuesday. [ MARTHA ASENCIO RHINE | Times ]

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