St. Johns County to mandate masks for school employees, visitors for 30 days

Duval County Public Schools is making some changes to its COVID-19 protocols. Parents could get a letter home if someone in their child's class tests positive.

ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla. – There will be a new mask mandate for St. Johns County school employees and visitors starting Wednesday.

The St. Johns County superintendent made the announcement that will affect more than 5,000 school employees during a school board meeting Tuesday morning.

What will not change, at least for right now, is the district’s optional mask policy for students despite the rising number of cases in the county and calls from parents for an emergency meeting to discuss a possible change.

St. Johns County schools superintendent Tim Forson announced that a new mask mandate will be in place for school employees and visitors. The optional mask policy for students will not change for now.

They want St. Johns County to hold an emergency meeting with health professionals similar to the one held last night in Duval County where the school board decided to implement a mask mandate with a medical opt out clause.

But it doesn’t look like that will happen anytime soon.

Superintendent Tim Forson announced the 30-day mandate as calls for stricter mask policies begins to grow.

“It’s optional for children. But, you know, a lot of times when children don’t see the adults wear the mask, they’re reluctant, as well. And so, I did get some feedback from parents to say, you know, it’s hard for me to get my son or daughter to wear a mask, when in fact, the adult of the school is not masked,” Forson told News4Jax.

The board also heard from parents who wanted a stronger mask rule and others who wanted no changes.

“I’m asking the school board to please call an emergency meeting and consult with the medical professionals in the area. All these parents are coming from both sides of the situation. We all have our own views on this, but we should be relying on experts,” said Leonie Halstead, St. Johns County parent.

“We want to express, again, our heartfelt thank you for keeping masks optional,” said Elizabeth Wittstadt with Moms for Liberty St. Johns County.

Dr. Sunil Joshi, who spoke during last night’s emergency meeting on masks in Duval County, applauded Tuesday’s move but said more can be done.

“Ultimately, yes, I think it’s good that they’re requiring the adults that are working at the schools to wear the masks. But, you know, this spread is what is the concern. And when you have a large group of people who have not been vaccinated, in a community where our percent positivity rate is extremely high, the risk of spreading it that way is significant,” said Joshi, President of the Duval County Medical Society Foundation.

But the school board did not show an appetite for that change, at least right now.

School Board chair Patrick Canan said he understands some people want an emergency meeting but he thinks the district should just closely monitor COVID-19 numbers in schools and come back to the table if things get worse.

Canan also said he believes defying Gov. Ron DeSantis’ order banning mask mandates, as 8 other school districts in Florida have already done, is inappropriate and unlawful.

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