Sarasota schools processing mask exemptions; state begins noncompliance investigation

Parents plan mask-less walk in to show discontent with mask mandate in Sarasota County schools.
Parents plan mask-less walk in to show discontent with mask mandate in Sarasota County schools.(wwsb)
Published: Sep. 1, 2021 at 3:03 PM EDT
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SARASOTA, Fla. (WWSB) - Sarasota County School officials have told ABC7 they have received somewhere between 1,700 and 2,000 medical mask exemptions so far, out of more than 40,000 students and staff.

The school has been sending students without masks home or into in-school suspension classrooms. Sarasota County does not have an opt-out option for parents but medical exemptions are allowed.

That has prompted the state Board of Education to send a notice to Sarasota School Superintendent Brennan Asplen and School Board Chair Shirley Brown, demanding an explanation of why they are not complying with Gov. Ron DeSantis’ executive order to allow a no-strings-attached “opt-out” option for parents.

The letter threatens to withhold school board members’ salaries, “as well as other sanctions authorized by law,” until Sarasota officials change the policy. The letter, signed by Florida Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran, gave Asplen and Brown until 5 p.m. Wednesday to reply.

“Parents have a fundamental right to direct the upbringing, education, and care of their minor children. The Department of Education will protect that right,” the letter concludes.

According to Brown, the district has responded to Corcoran’s letter and will have a copy of their response sometime on Thursday afternoon.

Meanwhile, Dan Busch, a local chiropractor in Venice, has signed hundreds of exemption forms for students. The school district responded Tuesday by changing the form, which had simply required a “licensed health care provider” to sign off on the form, to now require a signature from either a licensed medical doctor, osteopathic physician, or advanced registered nurse practitioner.

It’s unclear if the forms signed by Busch before the school district changed the requirements will still be valid. Responding to a query, district spokeswoman Whealy Kelsey told ABC7 via email, “All forms are being reviewed by the district for compliance with the new guidelines. Parents who have submitted exemptions which are not in compliance will be contacted directly by the district.”

The School Board will now only accept the updated medical exception form, which you can find by clicking here.

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