North Port High students in a video they produced about mental health.

SARASOTA — Students in Sarasota County schools will still be required to wear masks, at least until June 30.

After discussing executive orders Gov. Ron DeSantis issued Monday about mask mandates, the Sarasota County School Board members decided the mask policy set to end on June 30 would remain in effect until the end of the school year.

The orders state masks can be optional beginning July 1.

Chair Shirley Brown said the school year will be over before that date.

“The orders will arguably have an impact after June 30, so the board will have to do some planning over the summer,” attorney Patrick Duggan said.

Michael Drennon, from the Sarasota Health Department, said the county is planning another Saturday walk-up vaccination site for students next week. (It’s Saturday at the George Mullen Center in North Port.)

“We know between 350-500 students 16 to 17 years of age took advantage of the recent weekend vaccine events,” Drennon said. “Pfizer is looking at approving vaccines for 12-and-older and we’ll be working with the schools to coordinate vaccine sites for families in the community.”

Mental health needs

May is Mental Health Awareness month and Deb Giaccolone, supervisor of mental and behavioral services for the district, gave a presentation about options offered to students.

“We’re making sure we are reducing the stigma and telling students about our services and support options with our community partners,” Giaccolone said.

Giaccolone shared a 90-second video that five students at North Port High School made about mental health.

The message to students: “You are not alone. It’s OK not to be OK.”

“The kids were so passionate about talking about mental health issues,” Giaccolone said. “The video explains that it’s normal to feel upset and depressed about life sometimes.”

In Sarasota County, there are currently more than 1,000 students engaged in counseling or therapy, according to the presentation.

The Florida Center provides mental health clinicians to the district’s elementary schools, while First Step provides help with students in middle and high school.

School Board member Tom Edwards commented on how difficult it must be for students who are feeling bad.

“If they’re not doing well, or if they are in trauma, how can they learn?” he said.

Brown said she’d like to see a behavioral specialist in every middle and high school, and more in elementary schools.

“Kids can’t learn if they are in a dark place.”

It’s not clear at this time how much funding the district will receive for mental health from the state.

In other news

Sarasota County Schools Assistant Superintendent Jody Dumas updated the board on the district’s capital improvement plan at a workshop Tuesday afternoon.

“We have a draft of updated enrollment numbers for the next five years to accommodate the growth in south county,” Dumas said. “Construction on the new Wellen Park schools will start in 2023-2024. By 2025, we will be right on the cusp of opening.”

The board also discussed taking steps to hold a special election in March 2022 to renew an optional one-mill ad valorem property tax. The current sunsets in June 2022. One mill equals $1 for every $1,000 of taxable property value.

The next meeting is scheduled for Tuesday, May 18.


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