Lee schools to require masks, allow parents to opt-out kids; Collier schools keep masks optional

Reporter: Breana Ross Writer: Drew Hill
Published: Updated:
Seal of the School District of Lee County. Photo via WINK News.
Seal of the School District of Lee County. Credit: WINK News.

The School District of Lee County announced Sunday via an email to parents that it will be requiring masks for the 2021-2022 school year.

The district says it will respect the rights of parents to make health decisions for their children by allowing them to opt-out of wearing a face covering. You can fill out the opt-out form online here.

SDLC says it came to this decision after the Florida Department of Health said that the COVID-19 positivity rate in Lee County between July 30 and Aug. 5 was 20.8%.

The district also says they will be in compliance with Gov. Ron DeSantis’ executive order which “protect parents’ right to make decisions regarding masking of their children in relation to COVID-19.”

This email meant different things to Lee County parents.

“My first reaction was I was thrilled, honestly, and I believe that the school district should be commended,” said Vasha Tolbert.

Mom Angie Salender said the district shouldn’t pull this so close to school starting. “My jaw just dropped. I was stunned.”

School board policy grants the superintendent the authority to implement emergency use of PPE within the district.

SDLC made the opt-out form available online Monday, and Salender says she’ll fill it out for her daughter, who is in high school. She is upset that the form won’t be available until the day before school begins, however.

“There’s probably no way they’re gonna have a record of every student who is opting out of this. So then where does it leave the parents?” Salender said. “I mean, they are just sneakily violating the governor’s orders is what they’re doing.”

The district also allows for parents to escort their children to class on the first day of school, said Rob Spicker, assistant director of media relations for the district.

You can read the full press release below:

Per the Florida Department of Health, the COVID-19 positivity rate in Lee County for the week of July 30 – August 5 is 20.8% which puts us in an area of high transmission per the Centers for Disease Control.

Therefore, The School District of Lee County will require face coverings as a mitigation measure as we begin the 21-22 school year, while respecting parents’ fundamental rights to direct the health care decisions of their child, by allowing them to opt their child out of wearing a face covering or mask.

Our decision is based on the following factors:

The State Surgeon General’s Emergency Order which states that “Students may wear masks or facial coverings as a mitigation measure; however, the school must allow for a parent or legal guardian of the student to opt-out the student from wearing a face covering or mask.”

The Governor’s Executive Order which directs that any actions taken by school districts comply with the Parents’ Bill of Rights to “protect parents’ right to make decisions regarding masking of their children in relation to COVID-19.”

Guidance from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) which “recommends universal indoor masking by all students (age 2 and older), staff, teachers, and visitors to K-12 schools, regardless of vaccination status.”

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) which “recommends that all students older than two (2) years and all school staff should wear face masks at school (unless medical or developmental conditions prohibit use)”; and

Board Policy 1.181 which grants the Superintendent the authority to implement emergency Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) use in the District and allows him to provide guidelines for same.

We have also heard the concerns raised by parents and stakeholders, both those who support and oppose a mask requirement. We believe that requiring masks with an opt-out, ensures that we are doing all we can to keep our students and employees safe, while supporting our community’s efforts to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 and respecting the fundamental rights of parents to direct the health care of their children.

Parents who do not want their child to wear a mask should fill out the School District’s Mask Opt-Out form which will be available tomorrow evening. We will send a link to families then.

In addition, at this time, we are strongly encouraging all staff to wear masks to help us mitigate the spread of COVID-19.

This requirement will be in place through September 10, 2021 in order to give us time to track and evaluate community spread in Lee County.  We will continue to work with our health partners to monitor the conditions in our community at that time to make further decisions.

Finally, we have updated other health and safety protocols for the 21-22 school year. All of the guidance can be found on our website.

Thank you.

The School District of Lee County

In Collier County, the district says it will continue to keep masks optional in order to comply with DeSantis’ executive order.

But they did send out an email to parents as well and it had doctors pleading with parents to get their children to wear masks.

“It is incredibly contagious and our children are getting sick,” said Dr. Pia Myers, pediatric ER director at NCH Healthcare System.

“If things are not reinforced so that people are being vaccinated and masking and practicing appropriately what they’re supposed to, I am extremely fearful and tearful for the upcoming weeks,” said Dr. Benjamin Abo, an EMS and emergency physician at NCH.

Tolbert says she hears the doctors loud and clear. Her daughter Charlie will be masking up and she hopes other parents will do the same for their kids.

“I believe that it’s deeper than a mask. We’re teaching our children, the minors that you know, do unto others as you will want others to do unto you, and it starts with these simple protocols, just respecting each other’s boundaries, keeping your mask on at all times, social distancing.”

Elsewhere in Southwest Florida, masks remain optional at public schools in Charlotte, DeSoto, Glades and Hendry counties.

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