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Pasco superintendent apologizes for school mask confusion

Kurt Browning said he misspoke when he stated the district’s mandate depended on a state of emergency order from the governor.
Pasco County schools superintendent Kurt Browning posted a video on April 27, 2021, apologizing for any confusion he caused with past statements about masks in schools.
Pasco County schools superintendent Kurt Browning posted a video on April 27, 2021, apologizing for any confusion he caused with past statements about masks in schools. [ Pasco County schools ]
Published Apr. 27
Updated Apr. 27

Pasco County schools superintendent Kurt Browning says he’s sorry.

Mask requirements for students and staff have proven a point of controversy in his district and others. And he recognized on Tuesday that he didn’t help matters with a series of contradictory and, in certain instances, incorrect statements about the subject since early April.

On Tuesday, he took to social media to acknowledge his missteps.

“I apologize for any confusion I may have caused,” Browning said in a two-minute YouTube video.

The criticism started raining down on Browning shortly after his Monday announcement that his district would continue requiring masks through the end of the semester.

He took the step after proclaiming three weeks earlier that masks would become optional in Pasco schools if Gov. Ron DeSantis did not extend his pandemic state of emergency order.

“I don’t have the authority to extend the mask mandate without the governor’s order,” Browning said at the time.

At the time of Monday’s announcement, DeSantis had not extended his emergency order. The governor added 60 days to the order on Tuesday afternoon.

Browning tied the district’s rule to the governor’s action one day after he had pledged the district’s commitment to a mask mandate, in the face of the County Commission’s decision to rescind its requirements on face coverings.

Looking at all the flip flops, some residents came to question the district’s conflicting statements as much as they debated the need for the masks themselves.

In his video, Browning apologized.

He said he was under the impression that the district’s mask rule was subject to the state order. But after further review of district policy, he said, he realized that was not accurate.

“I will tell you I misspoke,” Browning said, noting that district policy gives the superintendent authority to require face coverings during a health pandemic. The Department of Education recently encouraged school districts to end their mask mandates, rather than instructing them to do so, lending credence to the districts’ authority over the issue.

“This is not and never has been dependent upon an executive order of the governor,” Browning said.

He noted that students and staff continue to test positive for the coronavirus daily, and the concerns about spreading the virus remain. As a result, the district will keep its rule intact through the end of May.

“We hope to return to normal for the 21-22 school year,” he said.