Clay County School Board stands strong with decision to not mandate masks

School board meeting gets heated as people voice support for and against a face covering requirement

FLEMING ISLAND, Fla. – The Clay County School Board is standing strong with its decision to not make masks mandatory in schools.

Right now, they are strongly encouraged — not required — which has many parents outraged.

Those emotions spilled over into Thursday night’s school board meeting.

After a rally calling for a mask mandate took place before the meeting, it was a heated two hours inside the meeting as parents, teachers, students, and school board members spoke.

One person in the audience was escorted out of the meeting by police, upset about school board member Beth Clark’s comment about masks.

“If I knew that the masks worked, I’d say go for it,” Clark said.

The person said: “They do. We know they do.”

Others also argued masks work.

“We believe these kids should be protected, and I’m telling you if one child in this county dies from it, it’s going to weigh pretty heavily on your shoulders,” said Luanne Eckert, who supports a mask mandate.

Evelyn Nickell, a seventh grade student in Clay County, said: “It’s time to stop thinking about I or me. Let’s protect our community. Wearing a mask could save a life, so why haven’t we been saving our community?”

Teachers also shared their concerns.

“Without an enforceable mask mandate, this is a ticking time bomb,” said Christopher Trahan, a teacher at Orange Park High School.

Trahan demanded that the district take action. He shared how one of his students announced how he lost his taste and smell and still returned to class.

“After publicly announcing COVID symptoms. That student was maskless,” Trahan said.

But some people made it clear that they are still against a mandate.

“It should be about the parent’s right to choose, the parent’s right to choose,” said Chad Weeks, who opposes a mask mandate.

Eric Leister, who also opposes a mandate, said: “I for one will not allow fear to rule my child’s sense of wellbeing and personality.”

“It is my right to vote for who is sitting right in front of me, and I have the choice to do what is best for my children,” said Zoey Dreary, who’s against a mandate.

Right now, Clay County District Schools is reporting 231 students and 23 staff members have tested positive for the coronavirus.

Other school districts — like in Duval County — have recently moved to mandate masks at schools, given the rising number of COVID-19 cases.

The Clay County school district is not budging. No changes were made to the district’s mask policy at Thursday’s school board meeting.

About the Author:

Renee Beninate is a Florida native and award-winning reporter who joined the News4Jax team in June 2021.