9 percent of Hillsborough students have opted out of wearing masks

Hillsborough County Superintendent Addison Davis explained Monday why his district’s mask policy changed three days before students return to school.

"This helps ensure we’re doing everything we can to prevent the spread while preserving parents’ rights," Davis said.

The policy, which requires students to wear masks but gives families the choice to "opt-out," has garnered a wide range of opinions. While many parents are relieved they still have an option, Amy Sapien disagrees.

"I think that it should be mandatory and I think that being able to opt-out so easily is a disservice," she said.

Amy’s son, Landen, has been undergoing treatment for ALL T-cell leukemia for two years. She says tomorrow will be his first day back in two years, and taking him out for a third year just isn’t feasible.

"I can't keep him home for three and a half years and expect him to be a normal adult someday," she said. "And I have to work. You know, they don't realize it's not just people over 65 that are fragile."

Landen has been undergoing treatment for ALL T-Cell leukemia for two years.

Sapien says Landen’s at-home schooling has been detrimental emotionally and developmentally because he hasn’t been around many children other than his brother for the last two years. 

The soon-to-be fourth-grader is in a charter school Sapien says they "won the lottery to get in to."

"We don't have the option of doing virtual through the school because we’d lose his place. And his brother won't be able to go there next year."

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Right now, the district says more than 16,500 parents have filled out the opt-out form. Though this year’s current enrollment numbers aren’t finalized, when using last year’s total of 185,000 students in traditional schools, that calculates to about nine percent.

This mask requirement will continue until at least September 3, and then the district says they will make further decisions. 

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Another option for parents is Hillsborough Virtual School. So far, the district says they have at least 2,400 enrolled. But they expect it to reach 3,000 when the window closes Monday night. 

2020’s school year began with 7,400 virtual school enrollees but ended with around 3,400.

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