Hillsborough County school board makes changes to mask mandate, drops doctor opt-out rule

Nearly a month after board members voted to extend its mandatory mask policy, the Hillsborough County School Board voted 6-1 to drop the requirement for a doctor to sign an opt-out form.

Now, parents just have to fill out a form if they want their child to be allowed not to wear a mask at school. 

Over the last week and a half, the school board refused to reverse its stances on masks while other districts, like Sarasota County, decided to revert to a mask-optional policy for students.

Meanwhile, state officials are set to meet in two days to decide whether 11 Florida school districts – Hillsborough included – violated their rules. Back on Sept. 22, the state health department revised their rule on medical opt-outs, targeting districts for requiring medical documentation.

Hillsborough was one of several districts that received a letter from Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran, citing the revised rule.

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"The provision now provides that "… the school must allow for a parent or legal guardian of the student to opt the student out of wearing a face covering or mask at the parent or legal guardian’s sole discretion." The new rule was put in place not long after Gov. Ron DeSantis appointed a new state Surgeon General, Joseph Ladapo.

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The district responded with a letter of their own, stating their mandate was within their constitutional authority.

"The Florida Constitution in Article IX, Section 4 provides that the responsibility and authority to ‘operate, control and supervise all free public schools within the school district is within the power of the locally elected school board," the letter writes.

After Tuesday's vote, a school district spokesperson said the school board believes it is now in compliance with the state Board of Education order instructing districts to let parents decide whether to send their child to school with a mask. 

According to the school district’s COVID-19 Dashboard, the last time the Hillsborough school board met on September 9, the district reported 233 COVID-19 cases for students.

Just yesterday, the district reported 55.