TAMPA — A parent group in South Tampa is petitioning the Hillsborough County School District to move beyond its proposed policy on masks and make them mandatory for nearly all students.
Citing recommendations from medical organizations, the three authors — a professor, a physician and a nurse — say compulsory masks will help slow the spread of coronavirus that causes the potentially deadly COVID-19 illness. What’s more, they say, proper supervision and instruction can ensure that most children comply with such an order.
“We believe the scientific evidence is clear,” says the letter, dated Monday. “Masks save lives. We believe, as our leaders, your decision for the safe return to school should be based on public health recommendations and those of the American Academy of Pediatricians for COVID 19 guidance for school reentry with a focus on high priority strategies to reduce COVID19.”
The letter was signed by Mary R. Anderson, a political science professor at the University of Tampa; Danielle Nanda, a registered nurse; and Paul Nanda, an urgent care physician.
They are calling on the school district to begin “building a community of culture that supports mask wearing,” and they want school district leaders to set an example. “The School Board and Superintendent’s Office should reinforce these standards by modeling this behavior in their decision making,” they wrote.
To the argument that masks might be uncomfortable, and students might resist, they wrote, “just like a new pair of eyeglasses, masks take time to get used to. After a while the discomfort and distraction will lessen. Children may be prone to touching a mask, but even a mask that gets touched often is still better at slowing the spread than no mask at all.”
In fact, they say, reusable cloth masks should be part of the student dress code, worn in all school-based activities including recess. No exceptions should be made for specific classes such as music, and any special circumstances — for example, a student with a learning disability — should be dealt with on a case-by-case basis.
Anderson said Wednesday that she has not received a response from the district. The district, contacted by the Tampa Bay Times, sent this message: “We appreciate all input and feedback from our families, staff and community. We are diligently working on our Reopening Plan for the 2020-2021 school year.”
Anderson said she has three children, two in high school and one in elementary. The Nandas also have three children, the oldest entering kindergarten.
Anderson said she is troubled by statements she has heard from superintendent Addison Davis, suggesting that if families are not satisfied with the level of mask usage in the schools, they have the option of enrolling their children in virtual school.
“I am part of a two-person-working family, so we don’t have a lot of options,” she said. “My position is that this leaves a lot of families like mine with really no choice but to send them to school in an unsafe environment. What I’d like him (Davis) to say is that masks are mandatory, and if you don’t want your child to wear a mask, then YOU can do virtual school.”
Anderson also believes that, if masks are mandatory, teachers will have a better time getting students to wear them than if they are optional — and that the child who wears a mask might even be bullied by those who do not.
She acknowledged that when schools open, even with masks on children, the sheer numbers will create a risk for COVID spread.
With reopening all but inevitable, she said, schools should work to “mitigate the spread, and do our best to minimize the risk that’s going to exist for teachers, students and the people they live with.”