Lee County Schools reinstates opt-out for mask requirement

Reporter: Breana Ross Writer: Drew Hill
Published: Updated:
kids in masks
Credit: WINK News

There have been many chapters to the mask requirement within The School District of Lee County. The latest one reinstates the opt-out option that was previously rescinded.

Superintendent of SDLC, Ken Savage, says he’s frustrated with the decision but wants to stay within the law.

Now, WINK News is speaking to doctors about how the opt-out being reinstated. Those doctors don’t seem happy to see the district’s full mask mandate go. Their worry is that if more parents opt their children out of mask-wearing, there will absolutely be more pediatric COVID-19 cases.

Nearly 300 doctors signed Dr. Parisma Taeb’s petition for a mask mandate in Lee County Schools. And, Interim Superintendant Savage listened to them. For nine school days, he imposed that full mask mandate, with only a medical opt-out.

The parental opt-out is now back. Dr. Parisma Taeb works in internal medicine and is also a parent. “It’s very disheartening, disappointing. It’s scary at the same time, just because we’re back to square one again. The district is putting the community, the kids, our school staff back in harm’s way,” said Dr. Taeb.

Dr. Stephanie Stovall is a pediatric infectious disease specialist with Lee Health. “You know, if people don’t wear masks, we’re going to see more disease. That’s just as simple as it is. Masks really do prevent transmission,” said Dr. Stovall.

Interim Superintendent Savage says he believes the doctors. He believes masks are just one of the many ways to stop the spread of COVID-19 in schools. But, he still has to abide by the law. “I am there to enforce the law,” said Savage.

Right now, Governor Ron DeSantis has the law on his side. So, for SDLC, that means no mask mandates without parental opt-out.

Some parents are excited while others want the opt-out removed. The letter and petition mentioned earlier means different things to different parents. Sarah Osmer DiMattina is a parent in Lee County. “I was disappointed to hear that they are having to remove the mask mandate,” DiMattina said.

“There’s been a lot of talk about parents’ rights, but I worry about the rights of parents whose children might be immune-compromised, or have disabilities or things that would put them at risk,” said DiMattina.

Racheal Ballard is another Lee County parent. “I’m ecstatic about it. Because when we first started school, I opted out for her to wear a mask,” she said. “She’s autistic. And she also is speech delay. So wearing a mask for her kind of covers up. And they can’t really try and make out what she’s saying.”

Every family has a different situation to worry about but every parent also wants stability. These parents worry that the district’s inconsistency on masks may be confusing for children.

“I just hope that they keep this the way it is and make up their mind what they’re doing,” said Ballard.

“I think that it’s really unfortunate that it even has to come to this,” said DiMattina.

Superintendent Savage says he feels every parent’s pain. “Parents are not the only ones frustrated. All of us are, myself included. We are all frustrated,” said Savage.

“We have an obligation to try to keep our families, our students safe as possible…but also following the law at the same time,” Savage said.

“The school district’s goal is to provide a safe and healthy environment for our kids and they’re failing to do that simply because they got a threat from the state. So why are all the other districts mandating masks? Why can’t we follow their lead?” said Dr. Taeb.

“Our recommendation to scientists is everybody should be wearing a mask and a high-risk transit transmission area and we’re still high risk,” Dr. Stovall said.

The Interim Superintendent says cases are going down in schools for now but believes it is too early to tell if the masks made a difference. Doctors agree with this sentiment.

Teachers and staff members across SDLC are still required to wear masks.

The laws surrounding mask mandates in Florida continue to change as well. First, a judge riled saying the Governor’s mask mandate ban was unenforceable. On Friday, an appeals court gave the state the ability to enforce the governor’s mask mandate once again.

“When the state law says I can’t do something, I don’t have the ability in my understanding of my role to just ignore that,” Savage said.

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