JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — With the first day of school in Duval County just a couple of weeks away, community members on Sunday called on school leaders to make masks mandatory for students and faculty.
Doctors, clergy members, parents and students held a rally outside Duval County School's headquarters Sunday evening.
“I'm really worried about my kids," organizer Matt Hartley said.
"I'm a Duval schools parent. I have a 10-year-old who's returning to school and he's not able to be vaccinated yet. I have a 12-year-old returning to school and she is vaccinated, but I'm worried about breakthrough cases. And I'm worried about all students or classmates who are not vaccinated too," Hartley said.
Hartley is also a former teacher. DCPS recently updated its guidance on masks. The new guidance says it strongly recommends unvaccinated students wear masks unless they have medical or developmental conditions that prohibit them from doing so.
"I think we all know common sense. What we've seen around us is that if people aren't required to map masks, they won't mask and people appreciate good leadership. And good leadership will tell us that right now when the variant is so high and so dangerous, all of our students need to be masked when they get back to school," Hartley said.
Jill Garrett, a health care worker and parent, said she's worried about her six-year-old daughter Ava who's too young to get vaccinated.
“It's a shame to start into school when our healthcare system is flooded," she said.
"It's just a concern around safety. Then we're hopeful that this will be something that we can stop eventually, and particularly as vaccines become more available, and we can be mask-less again, so not trying to cause any conflict, but just trying to keep everybody safe," Garrett said.
Those at the rally were met with counter-protestors.
“We live in the United States of America where we have a choice," Tamsyn Bell, from the group Moms for Liberty, said.
"We should not be pushed to do something. As free America we can do what and raise our kids however we want," Bell said.
Bell, Melissa Bernhardt, and other members of the group Moms for Liberty said they’re against a mask mandate.
“It should be our choice as parents whether we choose to put a mask on them or not. The parents that want masks, absolutely, send your kids," Bell said.
In response to the rally, a spokesperson for DCPS said Superintendent Dr. Diana Greene has talked to concerned parents and constituents about COVID-19 safety and will continue to consult with local and state leaders regarding safety protocols.