Masks no longer required at Lee County School Board meetings

Reporter: Sydney Persing Writer: Jack Lowenstein
Published: Updated:
Credit: WINK News

After a year of living with masks as a necessity, the CDC says people who are fully vaccinated can take them off almost anywhere.

The new guidance clears the way for a full-scale reopening, and doctors say people can return to doing the things they stopped doing because of the pandemic.

This announcement is welcomed news for many parents in Lee County, who have continued fighting for their students to not be required to wear masks in school.

One Lee County woman fought to attend a school board meeting without a mask — and she won.

“Had they arrested me, I believe that I had strong standing to not only have the case thrown out, but also to be able to go against the school district for targeting me,” said Tara Jenner, a retired Texas attorney.

Jenner argued the school district’s policy now invalidates the mask mandate. She points to District 1.181, which provides guidance for PPE requirements during the pandemic and says in part, “The procedures or guidelines shall expire as soon as the CDC, State of Florida Department of Health, and/or other local health officials advise that the protective gear is no longer recommended and/or required.”

Jenner argued the public health advisory issued by the state surgeon general on April 29 indicates mask mandates are no longer recommended or required. It says continuing restrictions such as masks with no end in sight poses a risk of adverse, unintended consequences.

She won the argument when the school board attorney said Jenner and everyone else without a mask could enter the building.

“We basically said we weren’t going to go anywhere because we were complying with the policy,” Jenner said.

The School District of Lee County has allowed people without masks to leave the designated “no-mask” room and enter the auditorium for only public comment for the past several months.

Now, folks without masks are allowed to be present in the auditorium for the entirety of the meeting.

So why no masks at board meetings but masks still in schools?

Both board members and the board attorney have pointed to the agreement the District has with the teachers association.

Jenner argues that agreement can and should be modified now that there’s been a change in circumstance.

Response from school board member Gwyn Gittens

Gittens told WINK News, “The district is looking into the legalities and responsibilities of all stakeholders.”

She also said there are many moving parts to changing a policy, including working conditions and bargaining with teachers and staff. Gittens noted there is one month left with the present mask mandate, Superintendent Greg Adkins has already recommended the board vote to drop the mandate next school year.

“Let’s working together to finish the school year in a positive way as we send out the thousands of 2021 graduates,” Gittens said.”

Statement from Kevin Daly, Teachers Association-Lee County president

“We, at TALC, have worked hard with the district to ensure the safe reopening of schools based on a model chosen by parents. Many employees of the district have continually been at work and in person during the 2020-2021 school year. We have worked and will continue to work to follow the advice and guidance of medical professionals who are experts in this field. It has, and continues to be, our position that we follow CDC recommendations for the safe operations of schools during these unprecedented times.”

Statement from school board member Cathleen Morgan

“I think perhaps the operative phrase is local health officials. It is my understanding that we consult regularly with local advisors who consider conditions in Lee County.”

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