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School board starts repeal process for mask policy

School Board Chair Rob Hyatt

BY JENNIFER CABRERA

At the December 7 Alachua County School Board meeting, the board voted unanimously on first reading to repeal the pandemic policy that authorized the Superintendent to mandate masks. Following a public hearing on January 18, the second reading will be on February 1.

ACEA update

A new regular agenda item has been added that provides the Alachua County Education Association with the opportunity to update the board and the community on their activities, and Dr. Crystal Tessman gave the update at this meeting because ACEA President Carmen Ward had a conflict. Tessman announced that all of the school-based teacher representatives have been given a card from the National Education Association and Florida Education Association “to signify that whoever wears the card is a safe person for LGBTQ+ students, and so we’re helping to make that even more out there for our students.”

FSBA votes to leave the National School Board Association

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During board member announcements, Member Tina Certain, who is also Treasurer of the Florida School Board Association (FSBA), said that the Board of Directors of FSBA voted to leave the National School Board Association: “Contrary to what was being portrayed in the media… the vote to leave was not because of the letter to President Biden about the dangers and the threats that have been taking place against some school board members. The vote to leave was because of some governance issues and some serious financial concerns of the national organization… We voted to allow a sub-group to join with other states and possibly form a new organization to address the needs of urban, rural, indigenous student groups.”

Chair Rob Hyatt added, “The move away from the [NSBA] does not preclude rejoining them at some time in the future. It’s not necessarily a permanent break… There’s more to it than you just read in the press.”

Public comment still limited to 2 minutes

In Hyatt’s first full meeting as Chair, he limited public comments to 2 minutes, as Former Chair Leanetta McNealy had done since September. However, the board’s policy on public comment reads: “1. Each statement made by a member of the public shall be limited to three (3) minutes duration. Persons will be recognized in the order in which the requests were received. 2. The time period may be extended by the presiding officer.” Hyatt also instructed the attorney to stop people right at two minutes, adding, “I’m going to try to not even have you finish your point… I’m going to try to be fair and consistent to everyone.” He said he’s been talking to the board’s attorney and Superintendent Carlee Simon about policies, and “that’s a work in progress, but right now we’re going to pretty much continue the way it has been recently.”

Repeal of Pandemic Facial Coverings Policy

The board then moved on to consider the proposed repeal of Policy 8450.01 – Protective Facial Coverings During Pandemic/Epidemic Events. The proposed repeal is a result of the Writ of Mandamus and House Bill 1B; the Writ of Mandamus requires the district to immediately adopt a policy in compliance with Florida law. The statutes passed in the legislative special session prohibit mask mandates for students and allow parents to have sole discretion to allow their child to wear a face mask, and repealing Policy 8450.01 would bring the board into compliance with the law. 

Certain moved to repeal the policy on first reading, and Member Gunnar Paulson seconded the motion. 

During public comment, David Kaplan wanted to know how the school would be enforcing mask-wearing if a parent wanted their child to wear a mask.

During board discussion, Certain said they were “forced to repeal a policy that has been in place over a year, that we put into place… to protect our students and to create a safe work and learning environment. So the implementation of us having to repeal that, and the parents having quote-unquote sole discretion, that didn’t come out of the special session, so we got the mandate to repeal the policy, but they didn’t tell us about the implementation of how we would make sure what the parents wanted to have done gets done… It’s going to be burdensome if we’re asking parents to opt in that they want their child to wear a mask… That’s what I just want to throw out there to make known to folks that when we start to lose local control, as I feel that this is, this is what that looks like, that no one thought through the implementation of this, and how this would work out for the parents that want their children to continue to wear the facial covering.”

Hyatt said, “The points brought up by Dr. Kaplan and Mrs. Certain are very important. We need to make sure, again, that parents who expect their children to do this, if we were able to do it the other way, we ought to be able to do it this way, but just make it clear that we are mask-optional; that’s the policy of the district.”

Paulson asked the attorney to research and advise them on what to do about parents who want their children to wear masks. 

The board voted unanimously to repeal the policy on first reading and scheduled a public hearing for January 18. The second reading of the repeal of the policy will be on February 1.

New districts pass on second reading

The board voted 3-2 on second reading to select Option 2 for redistricting. Certain moved to approve that option, and McNealy seconded the motion. Paulson and Russell voted against the motion. An interactive map for the new districts can be found here

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