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Indian River County schools' mask mandate hangs in the balance

Posted at 10:44 AM, Oct 14, 2020
and last updated 2020-10-14 13:13:39-04

INDIAN RIVER COUNTY, Fla. — Indian River County School Board members decided to extend their discussion Tuesday night, considering whether to lift face-covering requirements in Indian River County schools.

Outgoing board member Tiffany Justice proposed the change, bringing out hundreds of people to voice their opinions.

Several dozen people packed the school board meeting to speak in person. More than 260 people submitted emails to be read into the record. Board members listened to the public comments and read emails until midnight, taking a recess, and deciding to meet again at 8 am Thursday.

They will continue reading the emails and then begin discussing agenda items, working to accomplish as much as possible before 1 PM on Thursday. If there is still no decision, another meeting will be scheduled.

As a result of the ongoing mask debate, the deadline for families to select whether they want to change their educational learning format from virtual or brick and mortar schooling has been extended until a decision on masks is made.

Justice also added items to the agenda to consider no longer quarantining students who wear a mask in their classroom and obtain a negative COVID-19 test.

“If the worst-case scenario played out, and a student or teacher contracted the virus and died from it, would you still be comfortable with your vote?” one parent said.

“We’ve been waiting for normalcy to return and this political theatre to cease,” another parent said.

Parents, students, teachers, staff, and bus drivers were among the people who voiced their concerns and support for removing the mask mandate in schools.

“Can you tell the difference between these kids? Whether they’re sad or asking for help?” one mother said, concerned about the psychological impacts of a mask.

A teacher pleaded with board members to keep her safe while she’s at work. “Masks should instead be representing freedom. The freedom to enter schools safely which is the only way I’m going in.”

“I’m home-schooling, which is going pretty well, but I’d rather be at school making friends. Please don’t get rid of the mask rule because the schools won’t be safe, and I’d like to go to them someday soon.”

The President of the teacher's union for Indian River County said many teachers feel this isn’t the right time to be having this discussion.

“I would say the vast majority of teachers that I speak for support continuing the face-covering mandate as is. That’s because a lot of them currently feel safe and we’re about to bring back a whole new wave of students out of our transitional and virtual programs and we just want to keep them safe. Let’s get them back, then see where we are, and then let’s talk about face coverings and what should and shouldn’t happen with those,” said Jennifer Freeland.