St. Johns County School District issues temporary mask mandate for employees, visitors

ST. JOHNS COUNTY, Fla. — Starting Wednesday, Aug. 25, all St. Johns County School District employees and visitors will be required to wear a mask for the next 30 days.

Masks are still optional for students. Some community members worry that will change, and Superintendent Tim Forson is responding to those concerns.

”Step down. Stop embarrassing yourselves and stop embarrassing this community!” one woman shouted at school board members during public comment.

“You are petty tyrants,” another man told them. “You smirk at us and think our world doesn’t matter.”

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These were some of the heated responses after the St. Johns County School District announced it was mandating face masks or face shields for all employees and visitors until Sept. 23.

Superintendent Tim Forson said in a message (which you can view here), this was a response to the rate of positive cases.

A chart from the CDC shows the highest risk of transmission in schools is a case positivity rate that sits above 10%.

The Florida Department of Health reported St. Johns County saw a new case positivity rate of more than double that, at 21.4% in the past week.

There is now a sign posted outside the school board building requiring adults to wear a mask.

Demonstrators also showed up with their own signs reading, “CHOICE NOT MANDATE” before a regularly scheduled meeting on redistricting.

During public comment, they addressed the board.

”A public office is a public trust, which you have lost,” one man said.

”Why are we enforcing this on what we don’t want?” another woman asked.

Some showed support for the mandate by weighing in online about the severity of the Delta variant.

”As doctors in the hospital, we have seen a horrible situation, which we have never faced in the entire pandemic year,” one woman said virtually. “So thank you for the mask mandate, for at least staff and teachers,” she told the board.

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”If wearing a mask will protect one child from dying, it is absolutely worth wearing it,” another woman said during her virtual public comment period.

Still, others are worried children will follow.

”Mandated masks for adults and probably children is coming [sic] next,” the same woman who asked the board members to step down, added.

This is a very fluid situation,” St. Johns County School District Superintendent Tim Forson pointed out. ”That direction that comes from the state or from the federal level may change over time.”

Forson says for now, he’s following direction from Governor Ron DeSantis and leaving it up to parents.

”It is mom and dad’s right to make that decision for their child and certainly that still exists,” he said. ”We have to trust our systems,” the superintendent emphasized. “We have to trust our leadership and in that is the laws, the expectations that come forward with that.”