Students in The School District of Lee County were expected to mask up Wednesday for the first effective day of the mandate Lee County School Board passed.
Many parents threatened to send their children to school without them after the ruling; however, those we spoke to say they noticed most students following the mandate.
“Pretty much everyone is complying with it,” said Anjali Patel, a sophomore at Bonita Springs High School.
Patel is immunocompromised. She wears a mask to school every day no matter what.
“My teacher was like, ‘If you don’t want to wear your mask, I’m not going to force you to, but you need to get up and go to a different center, the collaboration center,’” Patel explained. “And they got up, and they left, and I’m the end a few of them did come back wearing masks, but some of them didn’t.”
Brooklynn Lamas is a freshman at Fort Myers High School. She started off the year opting out of the mask requirement, but not anymore.
“I saw some kids start the day off with no mask, and they were told right away to put one on,” said Brooklynn Lamas. “You can get reported to people and get detention if you don’t wear it right maybe, but it depends on the teacher.”
One Lee County mom who actively fought the mask mandate texted us saying she sent her kids to high school with masks because they’re in sports, and, “We didn’t want to risk them being sent home.” She also heard from other parents who claim, “Sixteen kids started off the day not wearing a mask.” One of them was sent home. Another parent called us to say he picked up his child from school because he did not want him to wear a mask.
Interim Superintendent Ken Savage said, if students do not comply with the mask mandate, the school will call their parents to meet in person and talk options. If a student still has a problem, discipline can become a factor and lead to a suspension. The only available way to opt out of a mask is by having a doctor’s note, but acceptance will not be automatic.
Savage didn’t get into specifics, but he said, so far, the District has not disciplined a single student.
“We anticipated, and I’m sure there are cases out there where folks were frustrated,” Savage said. “I can reasonably predict that those stories have not come to me today. So I haven’t heard that I think, but probably by the end of the week, I’ll have a better sense if there was any major pushback, but we really expected more concern today.”
Overall, Savage witnessed compliance on campuses just like the students we spoke to.
“I think some of what kind of happens at the board meetings and what not maybe exaggerates the actual life in the schools,” Savage said.
Students and parents say life in the schools went as it should with no widespread defiance.
“All the kids in her classroom, you know, they were fine wearing the mask without any issues,” parent Dr. Parisima Taeb said.
“Majority of the people listened, but there were a couple of kids who weren’t listening, and they were like told to put it over their nose or something like that,” said Hailey Bonnema, a sophomore at North Fort Myers High School.
A District spokesman told us he’s aware of about a dozen students district-wide who pushed back against the masks.
“We wanted to ensure that any kind of emotionally-charged issue was kind of properly deescalated and translated into instead more constructive options,” Savage said.
Sophomore Hailey Bonnema at Fort Myers High School hopes she can kiss her mask goodbye in a few weeks.
“I hope that they don’t require the mask anymore,”” Bonnema said.
The superintendent told us the District is still working on how it will determine whether the mask mandate will expire in 30 days.
The teacher’s union and the support staff union both say they received few complaints for their members about the first day of the mandate.