School districts react as Florida Education Commissioner says schools should make mask use voluntary

Posted at 11:15 PM, Apr 15, 2021
and last updated 2021-04-15 23:15:46-04

FORT MYERS, Fla. — To mask or not to mask?

That is a question some school districts are facing as they prepare for the 2021-22 school year. Tonight, the Florida Education Commissioner is saying schools should make mask use voluntary. The announcement comes days after parents protested on the issue.

In the letter, Commissioner Richard Corcoran said school districts should amend their policies for the 2021-22 school year to make masks optional. It’s a situation that has parents split- some for and some against.

“As we progress forward, certainly into the fall, I think there’s going to be more looking at, ‘Do we still need masks? Are they still effective? Are they still meeting what we intended them to do a year ago?” asks Robert Hawkes, Director of the Physician Assistant Program at FGCU.

“Certainly, there is no question that the influence of masks and wearing masks has significantly, positively impacted the transmission rate in many cases,” says Dr. Alejandro Perez-Trepichio, Chief Medical Officer for Millennium Physician Group.

Florida Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran commented in a recent letter, saying mask use is a personal choice and schools should make mask use voluntary. On Wednesday, Collier County parents voiced their opinions- protesting against the current mask mandate.

“Certainly people get mask fatigued- they get tired of wearing them and I certainly understand that," says Hawkes. "But I think, certainly, as we get into the fall as we’re four or five months away as different districts start to look at the school year, I think there’s going to be a lot of decisions made of ‘do we wear masks? Do we not? Do we wear them in certain situations.”

As some suggest, it should depend on the county’s case rate.

“If a particular district had a very high instance of transmission in the community, I would say as a medical professional it might not be the best idea not to encourage- we may not mundane- but we highly encourage the use of masks," said Dr. Perez-Trepichio.

Some districts have already voiced their opinion. Lee county schools gave us this statement, saying, “We are aware of the Commissioner’s recommendation for next school year and will take the guidance into consideration as we begin planning for students to return to campus in August.”

Meanwhile, Collier County Schools says, "Regarding planning for the 2021-2022 School Year, Collier County Public Schools will operate schools in accordance with the April 14, 2021, memorandum from the Florida Department of Education. As we conclude the 2020-2021 school year, we are focused on maintaining a healthy school environment as we move through testing and graduation.”

Whether they mask or not, there are still methods districts can take in reducing the potential spread of Covid 19.

"Those plexiglass screens that can go around desks to kind of serve as another barrier, I think those are great options so that the school children don’t have to have masks on all the time but we’re still providing some distance and protection," said Hawkes. "Certainly as they’re transiting in the hallway, moving between classes- those are all areas where we can increase distances and I think the districts have done a good job in doing that.”

As for removing masks entirely...

“For the time being, as of today, I think maybe that’s not the time but we don’t know what the future brings," says Dr. Perez-Trepichio. "Hopefully, we can all be there and we all want that. We all certainly want that.”