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Masks in Tampa schools? It’s a matter for the lawyers

The city and the school district will need to sort this one out.

TAMPA — Around the same time on Thursday when Hillsborough Schools superintendent Addison Davis was offering a sneak peak at the schools’ reopening plan, Mayor Jane Castor was issuing an order for masks to be worn throughout the city.

The problem: School leaders are discussing a scenario in which masks are encouraged, but not mandatory. They will provide masks for all staff. Students provide their own, although the school district will look for affordable suppliers.

Castor’s order does not mention schools specifically. It says that “every person working, living, visiting, or doing business in the City of Tampa shall wear a face covering in any indoor location, other than their home or residence, when not maintaining social distancing from other person(s), excluding family members or companion(s).”

There are some exceptions: For example, if the person does not interact with other people, is under two years old, or has health issues that would make the mask harmful.

Attorney Jim Porter is the attorney for the Hillsborough County School Board
Attorney Jim Porter is the attorney for the Hillsborough County School Board

Jim Porter, the School Board’s attorney, said he is studying the order and is already communicating with the city attorney’s office.

“We may need to request that the city exempt the school district, or come up with some acknowledgement about what this would mean for us,” he said Friday. “The city attorney is aware of my concerns. There are real, practical issues in dealing with kids, and we are looking at that right now.”

Porter said he expects the dialogue to continue on Monday. The School Board is scheduled to meet Tuesday morning at 9 a.m. for a workshop on reopening, and then at its business meeting at 4 p.m. Both are open to the public.

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