Pasco School Board to discuss updated face-covering rules

The Pasco County School Board eased its rules on mask wearing at outdoor sporting events earlier this month. Face coverings now are not required to be worn while seated in the bleachers.

LAND O’ LAKES — The Pasco County School Board is expected to revisit its face-covering mandate at a workshop before its Oct. 20 regular meeting.

Superintendent Kurt Browning advised board members of the upcoming discussion at the board’s first regular meeting of the month. It was during that Oct. 6 meeting when Browning announced the loosening of restrictions on mask wearing at outdoor sporting and school-related events. Face coverings must still be worn upon entering a field of play and while walking around the facility but may be removed when seated.

The School Board’s emergency rule requiring face coverings went into effect July 28. Browning is authorized to make adjustments that take effect immediately, but “substantial modifications of the procedures” must go before the board for approval. If the board doesn’t approve a suggested modification, then it expires at the end of the meeting or does not take effect.

Browning said that his office’s phone lines “started lighting up” when Gov. Ron DeSantis announced the state was entering Phase 3 of its reopening process on Sept. 25.

“A lot of folks were thinking that was addressing the mask issue and actually doing away with the mask issue, and that is not the case,” Browning said. “That order did not address masks, it addressed capacity at restaurants and small businesses.

“The mask requirement is remaining in place in the school district.”

If further alterations are made to mask policies Oct. 20, public hearings would need to be held at the Nov. 3 and 17 regular board meetings.

Browning also addressed the school district’s three testing centers, located at Gulf Middle School, the Land O’ Lakes district office complex and Pasco Elementary.

“We found that we’re testing a significant number of employees and students and it’s proving to be effective in getting employees and students back to work and back to school,” Browning said.

Deputy Superintendent Ray Gadd praised the work of Florida Department of Health in Pasco County officials for centers’ implementation and operation.

“They have just turned them into real jewels,” Gadd said. “There’s no one in the state of Florida that’s doing what we’re doing with our testing centers and command center.”

United School Employees of Pasco President Don Peace reported the union is pleased with the district’s efforts to keep students and staff safe during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It appears we are staying ahead of major COVID concerns, so kudos to the district for their planning and willingness to work with USEP where areas of concern have arisen,” Peace said. An issue that continues to be addressed is class loads for teachers involved with the modified hybrid teaching model. These are educators with in-class students and others participating online. This has been a concern since school began and the union is hopeful the district will redistribute class loads “to an acceptable level starting soon,” Peace said.