Elephant toothpaste

STEM students have fun getting messy in this January photo of Sarasota County School District’s Saturday Fab Lab. While students were required to wear masks during the 2020-21 school year, School Board members want to make it optional next year.

The Sarasota County School Board voted 5-0 to move toward a new mask policy that would make wearing a mask optional when students return to school in August.

Superintendent Brennan Asplen said he’s hoping to have as normal as possible of a 2021-2022 school year at a meeting on Tuesday evening.

“We will be having face-to-face classes and we will also have virtual schools like we have always in the past,” Asplen said.

The board approved to advertise the updated policy in the district’s Code of Student Conduct that will include the option of wearing a medical or COVID-style face mask that, when worn, covers both the nose and mouth, or a translucent face mask. Neck gaiters, buffs and bandannas may not be worn as an alternative to a face mask.

The policy will affect students, employees, visitors and vendors while inside or outside any building, facility or bus.

“We’ll vote on the new policy in 30 days,” Asplen said Tuesday.

The current mask policy expires June 30.

At a workshop earlier Tuesday, board members expressed concern about how the policy would be enforced.

“I want to make sure we are not putting additional pressures on our teachers,” Asplen said. “The last thing they need is to be mask police.”

Board member Tom Edwards expressed concerns about the safety of students.

“I do think there will be students and staff wearing masks next year, and I want to make sure they are not bullied or harassed,” Edwards said. “God forbid we get multiple variants next year and we have to amend the policy. There will be students with compromised immune systems that cannot get the vaccine. We just don’t know what’s going to happen.”

The policy also states that acts of bullying, harassment, intimidation, pressure, hostility or retaliation regarding an individual’s choice to wear a mask or not to wear a mask could lead to discipline.

It also suggests that the School Board shall consider the accommodation of disabilities and religious beliefs in accordance with state and federal law when interpreting this policy, and that the board shall not question any individual’s vaccination status.

If the policy is adopted, it will sunset on June 30, 2022.

The next meeting is scheduled to take place at 3 p.m. on June 15.


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