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Pinellas Parents Petition School Board To Reconsider Masks

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The Pinellas County School Board is not requiring face masks for the upcoming school year.

A change.org petition created by a local parent is asking the Pinellas County School Board to require masks in the upcoming school year as coronavirus cases surge locally and around the state.

The Pinellas County School Board is not requiring masks for the upcoming school year, but more than 1,100 parents have signed a petition asking them to reconsider.

Pinellas County parents received an email Aug. 1 from the School Board explaining that masks would not be required in schools. This email followed Gov. DeSantis’ July 30 executive order directing the state withhold funds from school boards that violate any future rules issued by the Florida Department of Health or the Florida Department of Education regarding masks in schools.

Pinellas County is currently adding about 600 new COVID-19 cases a day, a more than 200% increase from two weeks ago and more than 900% higher than when school ended in May, when children were still required to wear masks.

Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows Florida leads the nation in the rate of children hospitalized with COVID-19.

Brad Rosenheim, the parent of two Midtown Elementary students and creator of the petition, said DeSantis' mandate that schools cannot require masks defies science and the Parents' Bill of Rights.

"I don't see why we're abandoning safety protocols. Especially when Article 9, Section 1 of the Constitution says that the schools have to be a safe learning environment. And Article Four gives that power completely to the school board. It doesn't have anything to do with the governor."

Currently, masks are optional — but strongly recommended — for school children in Pinellas. The same is true in Pasco, where parents have also created a petition.

A group of parents of students with disabilities are also suing to strike DeSantis‘ school mask mandate prohibition as a violation of state and federal law.

“We all have a shared responsibility to keep our kids safe,” said Julie Richey, the parent of a Sanderlin Elementary first grader. “Unfortunately, I cannot simply send my child to school in a mask and expect her to be safe when others are not wearing a mask. Her safety also depends on the choices that everyone around her makes.”

Currently children under 12 cannot yet be vaccinated.

Rosenheim said children catching viruses isn’t new, but the way this virus behaves is.

“What's unknown is how this virus, which has neurological effects, will affect children for years after they originally get it," Rosenheim said. "This delta variant of the virus is super contagious and comes in much higher viral loads. I just don't want to experiment on my children. I don't want to experiment on anybody's children. And I don't think the school board should want to do that either”

Rosenheim said the school board, and the state, is leaning on an unpublished study by an economics professor that claims masks inhibit breathing, despite masks being recommended by every major state medical organization.

DeSantis’ executive order does not cite a study recently published by that same professor in a peer-reviewed journal that finds that data “clearly highlight the importance of masking as a mitigation measure.” There have been no reported cases of children being hospitalized from wearing a mask.

Florida’s Board of Education approved an emergency rule Friday allowing school vouchers if parents feel their children are being harassed by a school district’s COVID-19 policies.

The rule would apply to families whose kids are bullied either for wearing masks or for not wearing masks. Students can transfer to another public school or private school.

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