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Most Hillsborough parents oppose mandatory school masks this fall

The findings are based on a district poll that received nearly 32,000 responses.
Opponents to mandatory school masking rules demonstrate before the Hillsborough County School Board meeting on Tuesday.
Opponents to mandatory school masking rules demonstrate before the Hillsborough County School Board meeting on Tuesday. [ MARLENE SOKOL | Times ]
Published May 20, 2021
Updated May 20, 2021

TAMPA — The cultural divide between masked and mask-free students is alive and well in the Hillsborough County Public Schools, with a majority of parents opposed to mandatory masks when students return to school in August.

In a survey of parents conducted by the Hillsborough school district, 53 percent said they do not want children, staff and visitors to be required to wear masks.

The poll, conducted this past month by email, drew 31,844 responses, the district said. It was done at the suggestion of two School Board members.

Melissa Snively, who represents East Hillsborough, warned at a board meeting on May 6 that the policy on masking could affect the number of students who leave the district schools for charter schools, private schools or homeschooling. Jessica Vaughn, whose electoral district is in northern Hillsborough, said that without a masking requirement, some parents will keep their children out of schools, fearing they could become ill from the coronavirus.

The district also asked parents about their plans for the coming school year. Sixty-three percent said that, even if face coverings are optional, they are highly likely to send their children to in-person school. Eight percent are highly unlikely to do so, the survey found.

The parents were evenly divided on whether they will put masks on their children if the district makes them optional.

Separately, a survey of staff found 65 percent want masks to be optional.

The School Board plans to hold a special meeting to discuss the masking issue. Its current rule is part of the reopening plan that the state approved in August 2020. Any future rule would be considered a policy change, requiring an advertised meeting and vote.

Since the schools reopened, there have been 5,891 student cases of COVID-19 and 2,272 staff cases, with high schools reporting the highest numbers. The district has reported more than 100 cases each at Alonso, Armwood, Durant, Newsome, Plant, Plant City and Steinbrenner high schools.

Educators have maintained all along that contamination almost always happens off campus and in the community, and not at school.