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Pro-, Anti-Mask Parents To Demonstrate At St. Johns School Board Meeting

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MARY ALTAFFER / ASSOCIATED PRESS FILE PHOTO
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Parents in St. Johns County are planning a protest before the School Board meeting Tuesday morning, when they plan to ask local officials to require masks in the classroom. Other parents who oppose masks are expected to counter-protest. 

It’s likely that neither group will get very far, as the school board is not set to discuss or vote on masks, which are recommended inside schools by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American Academy of Pediatrics. 

Tuesday’s is the school board’s last meeting before classes start next week. St. Johns County School Board Chair Beverly Slough is refusing to add face masks to the agenda amid increasing pressure, including an online petition drive, after the Duval County School Board last week made masks for students mandatory unless parents sign an opt-out waiver. The governor has barred local school districts from mandating masks for students without letting parents opt out.  

The St. Johns County School District has scaled back its safety measures since the last school year: Masks are optional this school year, temperature checks will no longer be performed, and desk shields have been removed. 

This school year, soap, water and hand sanitizer will be available, and social distancing will be practiced “to the extent possible.” Visitors will be limited.

In an email to the St. Johns County schools community Monday, Superintendent Tom Forson acknowledged the heightened spread of COVID-19 in recent weeks.

"Due to the most recent increase in COVID virus spread in our community, I highly recommend the use of face masks as the school year begins," he wrote. "This is an important consideration in our elementary school environments in which the parents of students 12 years old and younger do not have the option for their children to be vaccinated. Ultimately, we are expected to follow Governor DeSantis Executive Order 21-175 which acknowledges the parental right to make decisions for their own children related to face masks."

School board member Beverly Slough, meanwhile, has announced prayer meetings at schools to “pray for safety and success for our students and staff.”

Contact Sydney Boles at sboles@wjct.org, or on Twitter at @sydneyboles.