TAMPA, Fla. - For weeks, we've heard from parents on both sides of the mask debate, but what about students? Some students as young as 10 have been finding their voice at local school board meetings and people are starting to listen.
Unlike their parents, students experiencing the effects first-hand day in and day out. Some have to wear a mask for several hours at a time. Others have the option, but they all have an opinion they feel policymakers need to hear. They come to the school board meetings prepared and show no fear.
"I'm 17 years old and I feel like my voice matters just as much as everybody's here," said Hannah McMahon, a student in Sarasota County.
The students are researched and deliberate.
"In closing, I would like to point out, mask mandates comfort people who are living with a fear of dying," Hillsborough County 7th grader Joseph Edwards said.
They can command a room full of adults who are all at odds with just a few words.
"I have a heart defect called TGA. I had open-heart surgery at only 10 days old. I'm really cautious about COVID cases increasing in our schools," 11-year-old Ainsley McDonald explained.
"Freedom is the right to safety, not the right to not wear a mask," Allen said at a recent Hillsborough County School Board meeting.
Allen, 17, has become a frequent speaker in front of the board.
"There are people who listen to me, but there are those people who say 'you're a kid you know nothing when they obviously have less of an understanding of epidemiology than me a 17-year-old," Allen said.
For some kids, the mask mandates have created more problems.
"I can't tell if my answers are right or wrong because I can't see my teacher's face. Sometimes I can't even understand what she's saying," Hillsborough County student Anna Edwards said.
Other students feel it's problematic not to have a mandate.
"The only option is to make masks mandatory in elementary and middle schools until the vaccine is approved for all children," McDonald said.
While opinions may differ among students all agree their voices need to be heard.
"We should listen to the students first of all because they're the ones being directly affected by these actions," Allen said.
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