At the Oct. 12 Monroe County school board meeting, board members were taken aback at a resolution passed by the Islamorada Village Council that asked the district to consider a mask mandate with medical opt-out only for students. This mandate would go against Gov. Ron DeSantis’ executive order, which states that only parents have the right to decide whether children wear masks in schools.
“I don’t understand why they did it, and I wish they would have called me,” chairman John Dick told Keys Weekly. “We can talk one board to another. Asking us to break the law and go against a large amount of the desires of a large amount of their constituents? It’s bizarre.”
Dick pointed out that two schools within Islamorada have high mask opt-out rates: 27 percent of Plantation Key School’s students opt out from wearing masks, while Treasure Village Montessori’s rate is at 43 percent.
Monroe County School District’s current masking policy is a mandate to wear them on school properties for teachers, staff and students, with parental opt-out.
The news about Islamorada Village Council’s resolution came out in the board’s “Report” section at the end of the meeting. The resolution, dated Sept. 30, reads as follows:
“The Village Council hereby expresses its support for the Monroe County School Board’s policy of requiring facial coverings for all students while on school grounds and/or utilizing school transportation. The council further expresses its support for the School Board implementing an “out-out” (sic) policy on facial coverings only for medical necessity.”
The resolution was considered in the first place because a village resident requested, at a Sept 2. meeting, that the Village Council formally express its support for the school board to institute a mask mandate for students with medical opt-out.
“We’re all elected to do the jobs we’re elected to do, and we’re not really (supposed) to get in the way of other elected members with their jobs,” school board member Mindy Conn said in response to Islamorada Village Council’s resolution. “I personally try very hard to stay out of the business of elected members of other boards.”
The village’s resolution passed 4 to 1, with Councilman Henry Rosenthal casting the opposing vote.
“I was concerned about one government body imposing a regulation on their board after they’ve already voted on it,” Rosenthal told Keys Weekly about his opposing vote.
Councilman Mark Gregg said the resolution supporting masks came following council members’ concern for children who attend one of three schools in Islamorada. He said he wanted to express support for safety measures with COVID-19 transmission still occurring. Gregg, who has six grandchildren in Upper Keys schools, said his support for the resolution was based on scientific information and not political preference.
“It was not our intention to tell them how to do their business. It was merely to provide them with our position on the matter since we, too, represent a portion of the population that the school board represents,” he said. “Our job as elected officials is to carry out the intentions of the community, and that was an overwhelming feeling I got talking with folks.”
But the village’s resolution may have had the opposite effect. Dick proposed that the school board consider voting on making masks completely optional in the next meeting.
“Let’s make masks optional. The numbers are very good. We’re not having spread in the schools. I really want our students and staff to start to have a normal school year and get back to normalcy,” he said.
“I definitely think ‘masking optional’ is worth discussing,” said Conn. “I don’t think masking forever is the answer. I’m truly concerned with the well-being of both our students and teachers. Our teachers are overwhelmed, balancing the emotional well-being of our students along with academic needs and the catchup they have to play because of the last couple of years of COVID.”