GREEN COVE SPRINGS, Fla. – Several parents and even a student stood in front of the Clay County School Board on Thursday to explain why they are either for or against students wearing masks this school year.
The discussion came on the same day Baptist Health CEO Michael Mayo told News4Jax: “Today, I’m very sad to share that we lost an adolescent in our children’s hospital, 16 years of age, to COVID.”
Clay County students are not required to wear masks when they return to school next week. Last week, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed an executive order ordering school districts not to mandate the use of masks or they could risk losing state funding.
The topic of masks was not on the agenda for Thursday evening’s School Board meeting, but when people were allowed to voice comments or concerns during the public comment portion, the No. 1 topic was whether children should be required to wear masks, especially children under age 12, who are too young to get the COVID-19 vaccine.
“When another student -- little Tommy or Suzy -- is sitting next to them without their mask, their germs go to my child,” said parent Jennifer Fowler.
One mother said: “Nobody has the right to tell me what’s best for this child. This is my child. You mask your children and keep them home if you want, but you’re not going to tell me what to do with mine.”
Student Connor Smith told the School Board the mask would have negative impacts on fellow students.
“I don’t think we should put kids through this and force them to wear masks. I think it should be a decision and that’s it,” Smith said.
His mother, Julie Smith, agrees.
“I believe parents should have the responsibility of making a decision on what that choice should be for their child,” she said.
One man said he lost a leg as a result of spending two months in a hospital with a complication from COVID-19.
“I could not picture my kids in that situation. What I’m trying to say guys is just think about it,” he said.
After the meeting, News4Jax also heard from 11-year-old Evelyn Nickell, who has high-risk family members.
“I’m very scared,” said Nickell said. “I don’t want to get sick.”
The new school year starts Tuesday for Clay County students.