The board of Hillsborough County Public Schools in Tampa announced that it will hold an emergency meeting on Wednesday to discuss mitigation measures to halt the spread of COVID-19, including mandatory face coverings for students and staff in defiance of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis' executive order.
The emergency meeting was deemed necessary amid an alarming number of COVID-19 cases reported in the first week of classes, The Hill reported.
The district said that 5,599 students and 316 employees were either in isolation, having tested positive for the coronavirus, or in quarantine, because they had close contact with someone who has tested positive for it.
''We're at that place. It's unavoidable,'' board chairwoman Lynn Gray told the Tampa Bay Times.
Hillsborough's case count is nearly 20 times higher than it was after the first week of fall classes last year.
Gray said board members must decide whether to defy DeSantis' executive order that bans full masking mandates in schools statewide, despite his threat to withhold funding from districts that ignore his order.
DeSantis, a Republican, has said it should be up to each student's parents to determine if the child wears a mask to school or not.
The board will also decide if it wants to join other large districts in the state in a united front against DeSantis' executive order.
''The most important thing is the welfare of our children getting this virus,'' Gray said. ''That's my major concern, and that's it.''
Earlier this week, Miami-Dade County Public Schools, Florida's largest school system, joined other large districts, including Broward County's, in defying the governor, according to the Tampa Bay Times.
That decision came after hearing some two hours of advice from medical experts that was unanimous in backing a full mask mandate without any opting out, except for certain health conditions.
Dr. Lisa Gwynn, an associate professor of clinical pediatrics and public health sciences at the University of Miami and chairwoman of the Florida chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, insisted that ''there should be no gray area. If a child cannot wear a mask in school, then a child should stay home.''
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