TAMPA — Hillsborough County Public Schools Supt. Addison Davis made the rounds Tuesday and declared that “we need them here.”

What You Need To Know

  • Hillsborough Schools Supt. Addison Davis says "we need" students back in school settings 

  • Parent says she's concerned district doesn't mandate masks for teachers, as it does for students

  • "If I’ve got to pull my kids out of school to protect them, that’s what I’ll do," parent says

He referred to the district’s 200,000 students, who returned to school as the coronavirus pandemic continued to set daily records statewide and as parents throughout Florida expressed concerns about the safety of their children in crowded schools.

About having students back in school, Davis said: “It’s the easier way to make that connectivity … to help them get connected to extra-curricular activities, to help them in small group instruction, to meet grade-level standards.”

Davis emerged last week as the only Tampa Bay Area schools superintendent to require masks for students, in defiance of an executive order from Gov. Ron DeSantis.

That followed a Florida Department of Health ruling that required school districts to give parents the ability to opt out of any such mandates, as Hillsborough County Public Schools did. The district says it will keep the mandate in place until at least Sept. 3, to the appreciation of some parents.

“I understand that we have to give everyone a choice,” Hillsborough County schools parent Eleni Georgiou said, “but we are definitely in favor of wearing masks.”

The Hillsborough Schools mandate doesn’t include teachers, for whom masks remain optional. Masks also remain optional for teachers as well as students in various other school districts, including Pinellas, Pasco and Polk.

The idea of unmasked teachers concerns Debbie Munoz, who says she’s considering pulling a daughter out of Kimbell Elementary School and a son out of King High School if the Hillsborough district doesn’t change its policy.

“It’s just not OK for these people not to wear masks at school,” Munoz told Spectrum Bay News 9 on Tuesday. “There shouldn’t be two different policies for Hillsborough County schools.”

Munoz said she found herself surprised at an open house on Monday to find only one Kimbell Elementary staff member wearing a mask. “Dozens” went without them, she said.

“I was in shock,” she said.

Munoz said she approached one teacher and asked, “No masks?”

“And he said, ‘Nope,’” she said.

On the first day of school at Kimbell Elementary, she said every student she saw wore a mask. That compared with, based on her observations, 20% or 25% of teachers who wore masks, she said.

“Why it concerns me is I am a mother and I have children,” Munoz said, “and I personally believe that we’re at the beginning of another pandemic.”

She said she’s concerned about her own weakened immune system but especially about the health of her children and other children.

She said she worries about removing her daughter, a fourth-grader, from school because her daughter’s on the autism spectrum and has difficulty learning outside of a traditional school setting.

Yet she said she’s poised to make that move.

“If I’ve got to pull my kids out of school to protect them, that’s what I’ll do,” Munoz said. “I need to protect myself and my children, and we all have to be protected.”

In response to an explanation for the policy that makes masks optional for teachers and staff, Hillsbourgh County Public Schools spokeswoman Tanya Arja told Bay News 9 in an email Tuesday that district employees "have more access to vaccinations than students do." The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has yet to approve vaccines for children under age 12.

"Please remember," Arja added, "we are the only local district that has mandated masks with an opt out for students."

Not all parents agreed with the mask mandate for students.

“I think they should be optional,” Hillsborough County schools parent Scott Brady said. “I mean, they don’t need to be worried about a mask or any stress of that nature. They have enough going on here at school.”