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Pasco Schools Superintendent Says Masks May Soon Be Voluntary

Young students, with backs to camera, raise their hands in front of a classroom chalkboard.
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Pasco School Superintendent Kurt Browning told a Tuesday board meeting that once Gov. Ron DeSantis' order declaring a state of emergency expires, mask-wearing in schools will be optional.

A day after saying Pasco County Schools would not follow the county's lead by removing a requirement to wear masks, Superintendent Kurt Browning reversed track Tuesday and said masks in schools may soon be voluntary.

Browning told the Pasco School Board at a meeting that once Gov. Ron DeSantis' order declaring a state of emergency over the COVID-19 pandemic expires, mask-wearing will be optional.

DeSantis issued his original order March 9, 2020, and has renewed it a number of times since. It's set to expire April 26, unless the governor extends it or rescinds it earlier.

"Staff and students that want to wear masks will certainly be allowed to do that," said Browning. "Personally, I don't care to wear my mask, but I choose to follow the requirements to mask up.

"Wearing a mask not only helps protect you or me, but also those that I come in contact with each and every day. We'll certainly continue to monitor infection rates and take appropriate steps to ensure the safety of our students and staff."

The Pasco County Commission rescinded its requirement to wear face coverings inside public places Monday, effective immediately, but Browning released a statement saying schools would keep the protocols in place.

Feedback to the move on social media was mixed.

Browning told school board members that the district has vaccinated more than 3,000 teachers and school staff members, with plans to hold a final countywide vaccination clinic Sat., April 17.

The superintendent announced last week that students will return to full-time in-person learning for the 2021-22 school year, with all 12-month school employees expected to return to their normal schedules starting June 1, while 10-month employees — including teachers — are expected to return next school year.

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