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Masks on? Masks off? Masks will be optional in Gadsden schools; Florida Governor Ron DeSantis says parents are free to choose.

Gadsden County schools are set to resume in-person learning on Monday, August 16.

Originally, the Gadsden County School Board and Gadsden Superintendent of Schools Elijah Key had announced early last week that masks would be mandatory for everyone on the campuses of the district’s public schools – however, towards the end of last week, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis threw a wrench in that plan when he signed an executive order barring local school districts in the state from mandating masks.

Citing the Parent’s Bill of Rights, DeSantis said parents will be free to choose whether their children must, or must not, wear masks in the classroom.

“In response to several Florida school boards considering or implementing mask mandates in their schools after the Biden Administration issued unscientific and inconsistent recommendations that school-aged children wear masks,” the Governor’s Office stated in a press release on Friday, July 30.

DeSantis’ order, signed Friday, July 30, threatens to withhold state funding if school boards implement a mask mandate in their district.

After the governor announced the emergency order banning the requirement of masks in schools, Key responded to the order, stating although masks are no longer mandatory, the Gadsden County School District highly recommends that students and faculty continue to wear masks, and those who are eligible should get vaccinated.

“We want to make sure everybody is safe,” Key said. “Our community is a hotspot right now.”

Although the district won’t be able to require masks, Key said the schools will continue following the Center for Disease Control social distancing recommendations and continue with the same cleaning process as the previous year.

Key said that as of now, there will be no restrictions on sports in Gadsden County.

He said Gadsden County High School only has two home football games scheduled this fall, but he added that the district will work with the state and the county to monitor the situation as those games approach.

As for the private schools in Gadsden County, before the governor announced his emergency order Tallavana Christian School’s principal Eboni Towsend said she also had plans to enforce a mask mandate.

Towsend said the school is taking other measures to prevent the spread of the deadly disease.

“All of the school’s teachers have been vaccinated, but it wasn’t required,” Towsend said. “That’s a choice they made.”

To combat the spread of the coronavirus, Towsend said touchless faucets and soap dispensers have been installed in the bathroom areas at Tallavana.

She also said hand sanitizer dispensers and ultraviolet lights have been installed in all of the classrooms.

Townsend noted the ultraviolet lights will be used to help sanitize the classrooms.

She also said teachers are required to sanitize the classrooms between each class.

Towsend said Tallavana did not have any reported COVID-19 cases on campus during the last school year, but some of Tallavana’s students who participated in remote learning did test positive for the virus.

Even before DeSantis’ emergency order Headmaster Adam Gaffey at Robert F. Munroe Day School had already announced that masks would be optional at the private school.

“We are carefully monitoring the situation, which is evolving rapidly,” Gaffey said. “Since our students [in] grades 6-12 have been able to get vaccinated if they wanted, we anticipate a return to a more traditional school environment in that age group.”

Some parents are concerned about the district’s inability to implement a mask mandate.

Frances Brown who has a child attending school in Sneads, and another child attending West Gadsden Middle school says she doesn’t agree with DeSantis’ decision.

“We need masks in the school to keep our kids safe,” Brown said. “I think what the governor did was wrong; I think each district ought to be able to make the decision on whether or not they require masks.”

Other parents are concerned about the harmful effects that may come from wearing a mask for six hours a day.

Shannon Ragsdale, who lives in Quincy, said she recently attended a Reawaken America event in Tampa where mothers took the stage to show pictures of their children with bacterial infections, which they say came from wearing masks.

Ragsdale says she thinks everyone should study the research behind wearing masks, and how mask-wearing could be harmful.

“Having them breathe in carbon dioxide is not good for them,” Ragsdale said. “They need oxygen to thrive, for their brains to thrive.”

Ragsdale said she is new to the area, so she is still trying to decide what school she will enroll her child in.

She also said the decisions being made may prevent her from enrolling her child in school in Gadsden County, and that she is considering homeschooling instead.

“I’m very adamant against the masks,” Ragsdale said. “I think it should be a choice.”

Although homeschooling is an option, neither Gadsden County Public Schools, Tallavana nor Robert F. Munroe are planning to offer any online options for the upcoming school year, as they did last year for at-home distance learning.

All students attending Gadsden County schools must return to campus this fall.

Erin Hill – Gadsden County News Service