Aug 25, 2021 - COVID

Pinellas County schools, Florida's 7th-largest district, votes to stay mask-optional

Illustration of a mask with a red x being drawn over it.

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

Against the advice of medical professionals, Pinellas County school board members voted 4-3 yesterday not to hold a special meeting this week to discuss making masks mandatory.

  • That means masks remain optional for students and staff in the state's seventh-largest district, which this morning reported 1,163 confirmed COVID cases and 3,159 people in quarantine.

The big picture: Parents and activists called on the board to join Alachua, Broward, Hillsborough, Leon, Miami-Dade, Palm Beach and Sarasota school boards in defying Gov. Ron DeSantis' order to keep masks optional or face salary cuts.

  • On Friday, the state Board of Education gave school leaders in Broward and Alachua Counties — the first two districts to mandate masks — 48 hours to reverse their requirements before their salaries are stripped.

What happened: The hours-long meeting was the latest display of the heated rhetoric — much of it from folks spouting conspiracy theories — playing out in front of school boards across the country.

  • One anti-masker was forcefully removed by sheriff's deputies after he refused to yield the podium to the next speaker.
  • Several made tantrum-like threats, saying if the board violated the law by mandating masks, they would tell their kids that they didn't have to follow school rules.
  • One woman described the vote as a slippery slope, arguing that if the board can require masks, it would next want to mandate vaccines. (Florida law has long required documented immunization records to attend public schools.)

Flashback: This is the same county where commissioners 10 years ago voted to end adding fluoride to municipal water on the grounds that it was unsafe, leading to nationwide ridicule.

  • Commissioners reversed course a year later after voters elected a slate of pro-fluoride candidates.

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