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While other Pasco schools go mask-free for graduation, two must cover up

The calendar is the culprit. Their ceremonies take place one day before the district’s mask mandate expires.
Pasco eSchool assistant principal Erin Senior records her portion of her school's 2020 virtual graduation ceremony in advance of the event. For 2021, the school will have its commencement in person, with masks.
Pasco eSchool assistant principal Erin Senior records her portion of her school's 2020 virtual graduation ceremony in advance of the event. For 2021, the school will have its commencement in person, with masks. [ Pasco County Schools ]
Published May 21
Updated May 21

Some parents whose children graduate from Pasco County’s eSchool this spring have a request of the district.

They want their kids to have a mask-optional commencement.

“It would be nice to see all the smiles on that day,” said Stephanie Ramirez of New Port Richey.

Just one obstacle stands in the way.

The school district set May 28 as the final date of its mask mandate. The eSchool graduation is scheduled for 6 p.m. May 27 inside Idlewild Baptist Church.

District officials announced its plan for winding down masks on May 10. It made clear at the time that participants would be encouraged but not required to wear masks at graduations after May 28.

All but one of those will be held outdoors.

As for the two before that date — the other is for Marchman Technical College — the rule would remain in place.

“It is a shame, but it is what it is,” district spokesman Steve Hegarty said.

At the School Board’s most recent meeting, a couple of eSchool parents asked for reconsideration. They noted that, had their event been scheduled 24 hours later, they, too, would have the choice whether to wear masks.

They suggested the rule was arbitrary, and urged the board to support a change. At least two board members called the administration to look at the situation.

“I made the suggestion that they can take off their mask to go across the stage and take pictures,” board member Colleen Beaudoin said of her conversation with superintendent Kurt Browning.

Students were able to do that last year, when they eventually held in-person graduation ceremonies. And that’s what the eSchool and Marchman students will be allowed this spring.

Beaudoin noted that the eSchool ceremony raised special concerns because it will be held indoors. Additionally, she noted, while some parents picked virtual schooling for their kids because they oppose masks, others selected it for the health safety worries of attending in person.

The district looked for a way to split the difference.

“The policy hasn’t changed,” said board member Megan Harding, who also contacted Browning to discuss the matter.

Harding emailed parent Cathy Julian, who also appeared before the board on May 18, to let her know about the decision. Julian wasn’t impressed.

“I’m glad for my daughter that she can take pictures without a mask on,” Julian said. “I’m not happy. But I will take it.”

She pointed out that the outcome was not a compromise, but rather the district telling parents and students what they can do. No real dialogue occurred, she added.

“There’s no other place you go where you have to wear a mask,” Julian said. “If a store tells me I have to wear a mask, I can take my business elsewhere. I can’t do that here.”