The Santa Rosa County School Board this morning eased its mask policy and is now "recommending" that face coverings be worn.
The unanimous vote followed about 45 minutes of county residents objecting to the former policy, which mandated masks in county schools. Superintendent Dr. Karen Barber said the recommendation was based on an advisory Thursday from Surgeon General Scott Rivkees, lifting mask-wearing and social distancing guidelines.
Board member Linda Sanborn was absent from the 8 a.m. special meeting. Voting in favor were board members Elizabeth Hewey, Carol Boston, Charles Elliott and Chairwoman Wei Ueberschaer.
Prior to the vote, more than a dozen residents went to the lectern to encourage eliminating masks in schools. Some questioned the science behind wearing masks; others said children are being hurt by being forced to wear masks.
Melissa Blevins said her 15-year-old daughter was suffering from anxiety because of the masks and the girl was pulled from school. She asked the board to "make the right decision" and remove the masks.
Lance Smith has two children in school — 15 and 7 years old. The younger child's learning skills have declined and he needs tutoring. Smith said forcing the children to wear masks defies common sense.
"Put this away and resume normalcy," he said to cheers from the crowd of about 40 people.
A Gulf Breeze mother said her asthmatic son is suffering from oxygen deprivation from wearing a mask in school. She ask for the mandate to be lifted and urged the board to "do what is best for our children."
David Jones of Jay captured the mood of the room when he said there is a petition being circulated calling for Barber and Ueberschaer to resign. He said there are more important priorities in the county than mandating masks, incluing agriculture-related programs being cut.
"Move forward after today and work for the betterment of our children," he said. His comments were met with cheers and shouts of "Amen!" from those gathered.
The only board member to speak during discussion of Barber's recommendation was Ueberschaer, who pointed out the board and superintendent received a number of emails and correspondence from staff, parents and educators who wanted the mask mandate to stay in place, at least until the end of the school year.
When she said it was sad that mask wearing had become such a political issue, her comments were interrupted frequently by shouts of "You're a communist!" "This is America!" and "Don't tell our kids how to breathe!"
Barber pointed out that those who wish to wear masks or those parents who send their children to school with masks should be treated with respect for their decision.
When the board was advised by board attorney Terry Harmon that it could revisit the policy if COVID-19 conditions change, one woman yelled "Never again!"