Masks will be mandatory for Hillsborough students and staff, superintendent says

In saying school buildings were not designed to foster social distancing, Hillsborough Schools Superintendent Addison Davis argued his requirement that all people on school campuses would help students and teachers stay safe from Coronavirus.

"We have to think differently in how we interact," Davis said during a school board meeting Tuesday. "We have to be as creative as we can."

Doctors and parents who spoke at the meeting said kids should still be given mask breaks from time to time. The district says it is deciding how to handle students who may have medical or sensory issues.

There will also be exceptions for those with health issues and accommodations will be made for the hearing impaired.

"I have about seven masks for every day of the week," said nine-year-old Vivian Anderson, who is entering fourth grade this year.

Her mother, Mary, spoke at the meeting, saying she agreed with the mandate.

"Teachers are going to help students get into a routine, particularly the young ones. I think like anybody who might wear glasses, it's uncomfortable at first but you get used to it," Mary said.

The district says students will not face harsh penalties for not wearing them and they hope explaining why nasks are important will lead to compliance.

"My job was to be a community leader," Davis said. "One that protects not only our students but protects our loved ones, family members.

RELATED: Over a hundred doctors call for students to wear masks in Hillsborough County schools

Though nearly every speaker agreed with the requirement, one was worried about his child's sensory issues.

"It is not up to the parents then to decide whether their children wear them, it's this mandate, and I just don't agree with that," said parent Zachary Horl.

Mandatory masks are supported by the teachers' union, which is especially concerned because of how closely they work with kids.

"Masks are one of the few things we can do to help protect people," said union president Stephanie Baxter-Jenkins. "We will have to look at social distancing and other things but masks are certainly a great start."

The district says it is outfitting some rooms with clear shields for teachers to stand behind.

Other teachers will wear masks with clear coverings to assist the hearing impaired.

The county’s Emergency Planning Group, which includes school board chair Melissa Snively, took the unusual step of discussing the amount of feedback they had received about the district’s lack of a mask policy Monday.

Snively said at the time that the policy was still under review.

Just minutes later, the state issued an order directing all Florida public school campuses to reopen full-time in the fall.

RELATED: Florida school campuses must open five days a week this fall, state says

According to Davis, the masks are a “short-term” solution that will make it easier to “return to business as usual.”

The district will provide three reusable masks for each student on the first day of school, August 10, and three reusable masks for each staff member on the first day of teacher preplanning.

The district will continue monitoring the pandemic and recommendations, he noted.

“Yes, there will be challenges and concerns, but I’m confident these obstacles will be met with empathy and understanding,” Davis’ statement continued.

Other teachers will wear masks with clear coverings to assist the hearing impaired.

PDF: Read the district's FAQ about the mask policy