Collier County schools drop mask mandate; face coverings optional starting June 21
Students and staff in Collier County schools will soon have the option to not wear face masks on school grounds, the school board decided Tuesday.
Collier's school board voted unanimously to make masks optional in the district starting this summer and continuing into the 2021-22 school year.
The measure, which takes effect June 21, follows a statewide trend of loosening COVID-19 protocols and mask policies across school districts.
Waves of applause filled the auditorium as about 50 speakers urged board members to end the face mask requirement.
“How long is it going to take you to make a definitive decision to end the mask mandate?” said Katherine Carvallo, who has children in the school system. “When are we going to make a final decision to stop everything, to just say no and let it drag on?”
Many commenters also spoke against student vaccine requirements, which are currently not in place. Board members agreed.
"I will never vote for mandatory vaccines for our students," board member Roy Terry said. "That’s a decision that needs to be made by parents."
More than 37,200 cases of COVID-19 and 551 associated deaths have been reported in Collier County as of June 3, according to the Florida Department of Health.
Since August, all students and staff members in addition to any campus visitors have been required to wear face masks on school campuses.
Collier schools also practiced social distancing to curb the spread of COVID-19 throughout the academic year.
More than 1,500 COVID-19 cases were reported in Collier schools during the 2020-21 school, according to the district's database.
At its May 11 meeting, the school board chose to put a discussion of the district's mask policy on the June meeting agenda.
More than 25 public speakers showed up to share their thoughts about the district's mask policy and the school board members themselves.
Dozens of speakers — made up of parents, students and community members — have flooded school board meetings for several months urging the school board to end mask-wearing in schools.
Board members said they have been inundated with hundreds of calls and emails in the past weeks regarding face masks. Board member Jen Mitchell said not all were kind, but she was making her way through the list.
"We may not always agree, but I think for the most part, typically, when you actually talk to someone, you found out you have a lot more in common than you think you do, and what we all have in common is, we all care about our kids," Mitchell said.
In Lee County, masks will be optional for the summer session and entering into the next school year, according to the district.
Rachel Fradette is an education reporter for the Naples Daily News. Follow her on Twitter: @Rachel_Fradette, email her at email@example.com.
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