New CDC guidelines reignite school mask debate in Bay Area

With the start of the school year around the corner, it doesn’t appear that Bay Area districts will make changes to their mask policies, despite new guidance and as COVID-19 surges across the state.

On Tuesday, The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended indoor masks for all teachers, staff, students, and visitors to schools, regardless of vaccination status.

While parents appear to be divided on the matter, it appears that the school districts in Manatee, Hillsborough, and Pinellas counties will keep masks optional for now.

That’s largely because Governor Ron DeSantis has threatened to ban mask mandates in schools. He’s made it clear that he wants face coverings to be a choice for parents to decide. On Monday, he held a private meeting with doctors to oppose mask mandates in public schools. The governor predicted lawmakers would hold a special session "to be able to provide protections for parents and kids who just want to breathe freely and don’t want to be suffering under these masks during the school year."

MORE: New CDC mask guidelines: Vaccinated should mask indoors, as should K-12 schools

DeSantis didn’t invite media to the discussion, but his office provided a video and transcript of the meeting in the state Capitol.

The president of the Florida Education Association urged the governor to hold open discussions on masks in schools and criticized him for holding the Tuesday meeting behind closed doors.

Hillsborough and Manatee school boards met Tuesday and parents had plenty to say about masks. In fact, mask rules were not even on the agenda at Hillsborough County’s school board meeting, but that didn’t stop parents and students from sounding off on the issue.

RELATED: Hillsborough County Schools superintendent signals no changes in school mask policy

"This is spreading among young children and it's spreading fast. It's way more contagious," Alisha Stephens, who has two 10-year-old twin girls and doesn't plan on taking any chances, told FOX 13 before the meeting. "Where we find ourselves today, I feel like it's almost a given that if we keep in place optional masks, most of our children are going to get this at school."

MORE: Masks for students still up in the air in Manatee, Pinellas counties

"Long-term mask-wearing has serious drawbacks and make it harder for young children to learn language. There is also evidence of adverse effects to their mental and medical health," said Dr. Jamie Wynn, who identified herself as a psychologist during the public comment portion of the meeting.

Superintendent Addison Davis said given the governor’s stance, masks should stay optional but school board chair Lynn Gray said the entire board may not be in agreement with him.

PREVIOUS: DeSantis says there will be no mask mandates in Florida schools

Meanwhile, Manatee County also plans to keep masks optional but that may change. Poll results taken last week from some 4,000 parents show they are split 50-50 over whether masks should be required in elementary schools, where students are too young for the vaccine.

The results came in before the CDC’s new guidance was issued.

***Editor's note: An earlier version of this story reported a special meeting was scheduled Friday by the Manatee County School Board. No meeting was planned.