Lee County Schools plans to add opt-out back to mask mandate
The School District of Lee County plans to return the parent/student mask opt-out as an option to the current school mask mandate, school board member Melisa Giovanelli told WINK News Monday.
Giovanelli told us school employees will still be required to wear masks through the end of the month, when masks will be up for discussion again.
“I don’t think we pick and choose what laws we have to follow,” Giovannelli told WINK News. “I support the law giving the opt out. I support masks as well. It’s up to individual.”
In a letter sent to parents of Lee County students, Interim Superintendent Ken Savage confirmed the opt-out option will be reissued, since a stay is in place allowing Florida Department of Education to enforce its interpretation of parental opt-out for masks in schools.
“Starting on Tuesday, September 14, The School District of Lee County will require face coverings, while allowing parents to opt-out without a medical exemption. This applies while being indoors on school campuses, indoors at school sponsored activities, and on school busses,” Savage sent in a letter to parents. “As the stay only applies to students, District employees will still be required to wear masks and follow the medical exemption process as set forth through Human Resources.”
Parents are split over whether this is something to be considered as a victory.
Racheal Ballard believes this will help her daughters who has autism and a speech delay.
“Wearing a mask for her that covers up and they can’t try and make out what she’s saying,” Ballard said. “So therefore, she wears a mask, and sometimes the words don’t make sense, and you can’t see her lips and try to figure it out.”
Sandra Lynn says her her child will still wear a mask to school.
“She said she wanted to. She wanted to feel safe at school,” Lynn said. “She didn’t want to be stuck at home quarantining, so she’s going to wear her mask.”
Both parents agree the back and forth on masks in schools has been challenging.
“It’s so up and down,” Lynn said. “Can we just make one thing, and you know, everybody stick with it for however long.”
“It’s not just a mess for me, but it’s confusing for them,” Ballard said.
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Mask mandate debate continues in Lee County schools
Under Gov. Ron DeSantis’ order, schools are banned from mandating masks, but a group of parents are suing the state to allow mandates.
The case is tied up in court.
While it’s tied up, a state lawmaker is threatening to fire the superintendent of the Lee County school district for not complying.
State Rep. Spencer Roach (Fla-R) sent a pointed message to Interim Superintendent Kenneth Savage Friday, saying reverse the mask mandate by the end of Friday or else.
“I put in the letter basically demand and time period and hope and expect them to comply with that and follow along with Florida,” said Roach, a republican. “If they don’t, I’ll ask the education commissioner and governor to use executive powers to suspend or terminate employment of superintendent Ken Savage.”
Gwyn Gittens, a school board member, said she doesn’t do well with threats.
“For me personally, it just makes me want to fight back,” Gittens said.
The Lee County schools mask mandate is still in place for now but the district is no longer protected from punishment.
On Friday, an appeals courts ruled the state will once again have the power to punish school districts with mask mandates.
Now, school board members are trying to decide where to go from here.
“That’s why we are having our legal people look at that,” said School Board member Mary Fischer. “We want to be as safe and secure as possible and we also want to make sure that we’re in compliance with the law.”
Attorney Charles Gallagher is fighting to give school districts the authority to do what they feel is right. He represents the parents who sued the governor over his ban on mask mandates in schools.
“When we have cases of statewide importance, matters that are going to affect all citizens, not just those in one District Court of Appeals region, there is a rule and an opportunity to have the Supreme Court overtake the entire case,” said Gallagher, an attorney with Gallagher & Associates Law Firm.
Savage has not responded to WINK News about what he plans to do over Roach’s request.