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Sarasota County School Board Extends Mask Policy Through June

A woman wearing a mask that says "I believe in science" speaks at a podium
SCREENSHOT: Sarasota County Schools
Gretchen Lovewell spoke in favor of the mask policy in Sarasota County schools.

The new policy allows for five-minute mask breaks throughout the day.

The Sarasota County School Board on Tuesday voted 3-2 to extend its mask policy, requiring students and staff to wear masks through June 30.

“And teachers, you can breathe,” said board chair Caroline Zucker after the vote, a reference to concerns about teacher safety in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic.

The nearly five-hour long school board meeting drew a crowd of speakers for the public comment period, some opposed to the policy and others in favor.

At one point, Zucker called a brief recess after two consecutive speakers refused to wear masks in the room, including a man who declared, “I want to breathe oxygen. I can't cover my mouth and my nose."

Gretchen Lovewell, a scientist, was among those voicing support for the policy.

"I felt it was important to be here today for those who cannot be and to show that just because a faction may be the loudest in the room that doesn't mean they represent the majority,” said Lovewell.

“More importantly, they do not represent the science behind how to keep our students, staff, and teachers safe," she said.

Board members Bridget Ziegler and Eric Robinson voted against extending the mask policy.

Robinson, who is near the end of his term on the school board, said his issue was there was no “phase-out” included.

The board agreed to ask Superintendent Brennan Asplen to provide regular updates on the coronavirus and schools at future meetings.

Representatives of the Sarasota County Health Department told the board at an afternoon workshop that cases of coronavirus are on the rise in the area, but are not yet as high as they were in July when numbers were at a peak across Florida.