St. Johns County sets strict rules for wearing masks at school

ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla. – The St. Johns County School Board on Tuesday morning approved a strict policy on everyone wearing face masks when schools open next week and spelled out consequences for anyone who doesn’t follow the rules.

The decision comes as the district leaders reported that hundreds of school-age children in the county have tested positive for COVID-19 over the summer: 50 in June, 202 in July and 71 so far in August.

The county also reports an average rate of positively in coronavirus testing over the past 14 days of 6.21% -- above the 5% threshold the Centers for Disease Control and other health leaders consider to be an indication of active community spread.

At its Tuesday meeting, the board adopted protocol that says if a student refuses or repeatedly fails to wear a mask or face covering or follow other precautionary measures at school, Superintendent Tim Forson has the authority to administratively reassign the student to a distance learning program. (Emergency rule placed at end of article)

The reassignment would apply to students who fail to wear a mask or face covering when required on more than three occasions.

“The purpose of the reassignment shall not be disciplinary, but rather shall be undertaken in the interest in the health, safety and welfare of other students, teachers, staff, volunteers, vendors and visitors that may come in contact with a student who refuses to wear a mask or otherwise comply with District COVID-19 protocols,” the measure reads.

Before the student is reassigned, the school principal must notify the student and the student’s parents verbally and in writing that a student has refused or failed to comply with required district practices.

In the event of an outright refusal to comply, or in the event the student still does not comply with required practices after written notification and the parent conference, according to the district, the principal shall notify the superintendent and Senior Director of School Services to recommend that the student shall be administratively assigned to distance learning, or that other remedial measures.

If Forson decides reassignment is warranted, he will notify the parent of that decision in writing. The superintendent’s decision to reassign a student to distance learning will be final and shall not be subject to appeal, the district said.

Part of the rules adopted Tuesday give Forson the power to require that all district students, teachers, staff, volunteers, vendors, and others, wear a mask.

The emergency rule will last for the first 90 days of school.

Forson also addressed mask concerns brought forward by teachers on Monday.

Some teachers are asking to have control over student mask use in their individual classrooms, a request that has been denied by the district.

“If we don’t set that guidance, first teacher A says, ‘You’re gonna wear your mask all day you come in,’...But teacher B says, ‘Just put them in your pocket when you come in.’ If we leave it strictly to room-by-room decisions. we have huge and consistencies, and from a kid perspective and from a family perspective, I just don’t believe that’s where I should guide us to go forward,” Forson said.

The district added that individual teachers, particularly those with health concerns, can go to their principals to make additional mask safety precautions in their classrooms.

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