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Thursday, August 26, 2021

Marion County parents cite individual rights in rebuke of school district’s mask mandate

Several parents took to Tuesday night’s Marion County School Board meeting to vehemently express their opposition to the recently implemented mask mandate, with one father labeling it a “muzzle” mandate. 

That father, Justin Godwin, said his child was sent home on August 24 to quarantine “for seven days” after coming in contact with another student who tested positive for COVID-19. 

Justin Godwin at Tuesday nights Marion County School Board meeting
Justin Godwin at Tuesday night’s Marion County School Board meeting

“Whether you choose to relieve your child from the bondage of a muzzle, or whether you choose to have your child wear one, that is a right as a parent to choose for our child and our child alone,” said Godwin, who says that his daughter was “forced to put on a muzzle” despite having opted out of wearing a mask. 

“Although I respect everyone’s individual rights, this is not about [teachers], it’s about our individual children and what we as parents feel is best for them.” 

Kevin Cruz, who has three children enrolled in Marion County Schools, expressed concern about how the list of those who opted was maintained. 

“Governor DeSantis said it’s optional, and then four days later, it’s mandatory. And if you don’t want to do it, we can give you a waiver, but it’s basically a registry of these children that didn’t wear a mask,” said Cruz. He asked the board where the “registry” would be maintained. 

Kevin Cruz
Kevin Cruz at the Tuesday, August 24 meeting of the Marion County School Board

“Do you guys have it? Does it go anywhere else? Where is the list of kids that don’t want to wear masks?” asked Cruz, saying it is “very concerning.” 

Last week, Marion County School Board members held an emergency meeting during which they agreed upon a mask resolution with an opt-out clause. That resolution went into effect on Thursday, August 19. 

In closing remarks, board members were adamant that although the decision was not made lightly, it was done with the safety of the children in mind. 

Eric Cummings, who has been a vocal proponent of stronger mitigation efforts at schools, cited multiple funerals and deaths of “MCPS family” as a result of COVID-19. He asked for a moment of silence to recognize those that had passed. 

“We have folks that have passed away, we have folks that are in the hospital right now fighting for their lives…We have to let them know that they are valuable to us. They’re not just a number. I come from a system where people wear a six-digit number. They’re not just a number,” said Cummings. He made reference to bus drivers, cafeteria workers, and teachers that were in need of the county’s support. 

Eric Cummings at Marion County School Board meeting on Tuesday August 24
Marion County School Board member Eric Cummings during the board’s meeting on Tuesday, August 24

“We have to show them, and encourage them, and let them know that they are a valuable part of our MCPS family. Family looks out for family. We can’t say they’re family and then we don’t look out for them.”

In reference to the pandemic, Cummings said “every last one of us” is dealing with COVID-19 in “one way” or another, but that it makes no difference to the district.

“We’re trying to do it the best way we can for 42,000 students, for 7,000 staff members. We’re not going to make everybody happy, but it’s our intent to keep everybody safe,” said Cummings. “We’re doing what we can do to make sure that it’s safe. We were elected to do those things, to keep everyone safe and think for the greater whole.”