The Pasco County School Board has extended the district’s mask policy through the end of the school year.
The action came during the board’s Nov. 17 meeting, at the recommendation of Superintendent Kurt Browning.
It also followed an afternoon workshop involving Pasco County Schools staff and the Florida Department of Health-Pasco County, covering the district’s response to COVID-19.
According to agenda materials, the proposed rule “is required to protect the health, safety and welfare of students and staff.”
It “mandates and requires that all employees, contractors, visitors, and students wear a mask or other face covering while on school property and/or engaged in school activities.”
The policy also “requires that proper social distancing must always be observed to the maximum extent possible.” Also, “whenever feasible and possible, students, staff, and visitors must remain six (6) feet away from persons that are not members of their household.”
School board member Megan Harding addressed the issue during the board’s evening session.
“I know that COVID-19 is real,” Harding said. “People in our community have suffered from it. People in my family have suffered from it and people in our school family have suffered from it.
“There no manual that has taught us how to run our school district during a pandemic. Our superintendent and staff have done an amazing, amazing job in making sure our students and teachers are the safest that they can be. Our principals have been tasked with a huge undertaking to keep their students and staff safe. Hours upon hours of work, and for that I am so grateful.
“I truly believe that we have done a great job of keeping our schools open and functioning for our students.
“Nobody likes wearing a mask. They’re uncomfortable, and our students can’t see their teachers or principals’ smiling faces.
“While many students aren’t struggling with keeping them on, I have seen firsthand, the added layer of stress, making sure they are properly being worn, and the reminders that teachers are faced with having to give their students, daily.
“However, it is our job to keep our students safe, and our staff safe, along with ensuring they receive the world-class education they deserve.
“I’m not a doctor or a health official. The CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) is still recommending that masks are worn, local government still has a mandate in place and our local health officials are recommending we still wear them.
“We saw that today, in the workshop — all of the data. We know that we can’t properly social distance our students in the classroom, and the cafeterias and the hallways, due to square footage. This is another layer of protection.
“I want our teachers to feel supported and safe, when they’re coming to work. “And, I want our students to feel safe coming to school,” she said, and she wants parents to know that their children are safe.
“Mr. Browning, we’ve done such an amazing job in including our parents in many of our discussions around COVID-19, and for that I’m thankful.
“We’ve allowed our parents to choose whether it felt safe enough to send their child back to brick-and-mortar, or whether they wanted to do MySchool Online. I truly hope that we continue, with the support of the health department — that we keep our parents involved in those conversations,” she said.
Harding said she knows that COVID fatigue is real, and she would like to see the district move toward allowing: students to collaborate more; live performances with limited audiences; staff breakfasts; and, group staff meetings.
She said she understands that any changes must be done safely.
However, she added: “I really want our children to go to school. I want our children to participate in sports, the arts, field trips and events, but most importantly, I want our children to be safe.”
She asked for assurances that the district could change its policy if conditions improve, and she was assured that it could.
She’s in favor of relaxing the rule, as soon as it’s safe to do so.
“I don’t want our students to go to school forever with a mask on,” Harding said.