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Pasco schools will mandate masks, board decides

The measure will apply to all employees, visitors and students while at district properties, facilities and activities.

Facial coverings won’t be optional inside Pasco County schools or other district sites as they reopen for the new academic year.

Citing an immediate need to stem the spread of COVID-19, the School Board on Tuesday formally adopted an emergency order mandating masks for all students, employees and visitors. It gives superintendent Kurt Browning authority to develop procedures for how the masks should be used, and makes clear that special accommodations will be available for people with specific medical conditions that might be exacerbated by wearing a mask.

The board also gave initial approval to code of conduct amendments aimed at implementing the mandate.

Students who refuse to follow the rule would receive counseling with their parents. If they continue to disobey, they could face a change of placement to online education.

Non-students who do not comply could be removed from district property, with the possibility of a trespass citation if the administration finds that action necessary.

Board members first asked for a mask requirement in late June. The administration brought forth its proposal two weeks later, giving time for public review and commentary.

Related: Pasco schools plan to require masks

It received a mixed response.

“Make the face masks part of the dress code so that students can not wear inappropriate things on the masks,” employee Dana Buntyn told the board via email, adding, “Keep up the great work!”

Parent Kristin Dye emailed the board to express her opposition.

“Real critical thinking must be applied here,” she wrote. “If you think for one second that the government is actually trying to keep you safe and you are a big part of saving lives because We are all in this together, then I really hope you wake up soon before it’s too late.”

Board members acknowledged the feedback, and said they appreciated the administration’s move to incorporate masks into the reopening strategy.

Member Megan Harding called the measure “one more layer of safety” for everyone in the schools. She encouraged parents to start training their children on wearing masks, making them a game for younger ones and a fashion statement for older ones.

“Please keep in mind, this is temporary,” chairwoman Colleen Beaudoin said, urging all Pasco County residents to continue wearing masks as a way to drive down the coronavirus spread in the community.

The schools can end the mandate sooner, she said, “if the public does its part.”

The Pinellas, Hillsborough and Hernando county school districts also have adopted compulsory mask requirements.

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