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Pasco school board to consider extending mask rule through spring

The rule would be subject to local health conditions and federal guidelines.

Citing the continuation of the coronavirus pandemic, the Pasco County school district administration is asking the School Board to make its mask mandate permanent through the end of the academic year.

“We’re not moving away from masks,” said superintendent Kurt Browning, who experienced COVID-19 in the spring.

The board adopted its existing rule as an emergency measure, set to expire after 90 days. The new proposal, set to be discussed at a Tuesday workshop, would remain in place no longer than the May end of classes.

Any further extension would require added board action.

Pasco’s recommended policy comes at the same time that other districts across Florida are looking at similar measures. In some counties, such as Pinellas, groups have loudly urged their officials to end the requirement.

Some Sarasota County residents have started raising money to hire lawyers to fight the masks. Indian River County residents had so much to say about masks that their School Board extended their Oct. 12 meeting, where the subject was scheduled for a vote, delaying action for two days.

Pasco officials said they have received regular correspondence opposing the mask requirement in all district properties, with certain exceptions. But for the most part, the complaints have dwindled, and the vast majority of students, staff and visitors are following the rules, district spokesman Steve Hegarty said.

Board vice chairman Allen Altman said he has received “far more” support of masks than opposition.

If approved, the policy would authorize the superintendent to extend the district’s personal protective equipment mandate to include other items such as gloves and respirators, as needed and directed by local health conditions and state and federal guidelines. Those could be implemented immediately.

However, “substantial modifications” would have to come to the board for approval at its next scheduled meeting.

If those aren’t considered or approved, “then the modification will expire at the conclusion of that Board meeting,” according to the draft.

The board also plans to discuss proposed policy revisions relating to the use of drones on school property, as well as several items transferring rules related to such things as dress code and extracurricular activities into the Student Code of Conduct.

Any changes would require two public hearings and a formal vote before becoming effective.