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Hillsborough Superintendent Maintains Mask Policy, Acknowledges Parents Now Have A Choice

A bald man wearing a white polo shirt stands in front of a blue backdrop
Hillsborough County Schools
Superintendent Addison Davis further explained why Hillsborough County Schools will not be mandating masks, citing concerns of losing state funding and allowing parents to choose what's best for their children.

The Hillsborough County School District responded to the state's expansion of private school vouchers and doubled down on its decision to keep masks optional when schools open Tuesday.

Superintendent Addison Davis acknowledged the Florida’s Board of Education’s decision to expand private school vouchers for parents uncomfortable with their school district’s COVID-19 policies at a press event Friday afternoon.

“In this new initiative that came out, one thing was very clear,” Davis said. “In any way, shape, or form, if a school district really truly threatens or harasses any of our students or our parents and they feel that way — related to protocols put in place — then those individuals get an opportunity to select and leverage the Hope Scholarship."

The Hope Scholarship, pioneered by Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran, was originally designed to allow students who are victims of bullying to transfer from public to private schools.

Now, parents who say their district’s COVID-19 policies amount to child harassment will be eligible for the voucher.

“It's the parents' choice, if they feel that in any way shape or form they're uncomfortable, then they get a chance to implement the process and initiate Hope Scholarships,” Davis said.

Davis reiterated the district’s policies for the upcoming school year, including social distancing when possible and a reduced quarantine period.

He also doubled down on keeping masks optional but strongly recommended them, citing concerns over the state cutting funding if the district was to enforce a mandate.

“From our side of it, we are not in a financial footing to be able to give out any dollar or any cent away from our organization,” Davis said.

“We're kind of stuck in a hard place related to making certain that we have strong protocols in place to further protect our students.”

The decision to strongly recommend, but not mandate, masks is shared among other school districts in the greater Tampa Bay region and across the state.

Education officials in Alachua and Broward counties voted to reinstate mask mandates, and Duval County Schools approved a mask requirement with an “opt-out” clause. But a spokesperson for Gov. DeSantis advised caution to those districts.

“This decision isn’t in isolation, I’ve talked to many superintendents across the state,” Davis said. “And when you look at Pinellas County, Polk County, and we look at Pasco County, they are all taking the same stance we’re taking in Hillsborough County with making it strongly recommended and making them optional.”

Despite mask-wearing being optional in Hillsborough schools, Davis said it’s possible parents will apply for the vouchers based on the district’s recommendation to wear masks.

He also said he was unaware of any litigation being taken against the state.

Jacob Wentz is the inaugural WUSF Rush Family Radio News intern for the summer of 2021.
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