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2 perspectives, 1 message | St. Johns County doctor, mother pleads students wear masks this school year

“The Delta variant in particular is spreading like wildfire. Wildfire. Even in vaccinated teens, even in vaccinated adults," Dr. Sarah Bodin told First Coast News.

ST. JOHNS COUNTY, Fla. — She’s a doctor, but a mother first.

After the St. Johns County School Board maintained its position this week to keep masks optional for students and teachers this school year, Dr. Sarah Bodin is speaking out.

The school district superintendent Tim Forsan said in a letter to parents this week: 

“Due to the most recent increase in COVID virus spread in our community, I highly recommend the use of face masks as the school year begins.... Ultimately, we are expected to follow Governor DeSantis Executive Order 21-175 which acknowledges the parental right to make decisions for their own children related to face masks.”

“We mandate that they wear appropriate clothing and appropriate footwear for safety. Why not masks? I do not understand that," Bodin said.

Even though she’s vaccinated, Dr. Bodin is nervous for her 15-year-old daughter, and her fellow classmates, to go back to Nease High School next week without a mask mandate.

“It's going to knock a lot of kids out of school, a lot of them are going to miss school, they're going to quarantine," Bodin predicted. “There's going to be a burst in our community spread. There's going to be far more children getting sick, far more going into the pediatric hospitals."

She's not concerned about herself or her daughter becoming seriously ill if they contracted COVID-19, but she is worried about the possibility of long-term effects.

Bodin is an anesthesiologist who works for four different hospitals in North Florida.

She said Flagler Hospital in St. Johns County told her not to come in later this week. Flagler Health+ confirms to First Coast News some of its elective surgeries had to be canceled due to the spike in COVID-19 hospitalizations.

“We're going to lose a lot of Floridians. We've already lost a lot of Floridians," Bodin explained. "We're gonna lose not only the ones who are getting sick with COVID, but the ones who can't get care because of the overwhelm.“

As kids pack their backpacks this week, Bodin’s message to parents is simple.

“Masks do not hinder your children. We know that they help," she said. "Please put masks on your children. Please, please keep us from getting anymore overwhelmed in our healthcare system.“

On Tuesday morning, a few dozen parents and students held a pro-mask rally before the St. Johns County School Board meeting. The issue of face masks was not on the agenda for the meeting, but it was brought up during public comment.

An online petition for a mask mandate in schools has close to 5,000 signatures.

The following is the full letter Forson sent to St Johns County parents Monday:

"Dear SJCSD Parents and Guardians,

The 2021-2022 school year is upon us and we look forward to the return of students to our schools. Before starting the new year, I would like to thank our families and employees for their work and support last year. Academically, St. Johns County schools excelled on Florida State Assessments (FSA) this past spring. This would not have been possible without the commitment of all stakeholders in the school community and the outstanding academic skills of students. While our community continues to be impacted by COVID, we look forward to the excitement and enthusiasm of a new school year.

This year we will continue to implement our COVID safety protocols as communicated on May 14, 2021 and Board approved in July 2021. The most notable adjustments include optional face masks, no longer having daily temperature checks, and reduction in the use of classroom dividers based on specific needs. Due to the most recent increase in COVID virus spread in our community, I highly recommend the use of face masks as the school year begins. This is an important consideration in our elementary school environments in which the parents of students 12 years old and younger do not have the option for their children to be vaccinated. Ultimately, we are expected to follow Governor DeSantis Executive Order 21-175 which acknowledges the parental right to make decisions for their own children related to face masks. This order has been followed by emergency rules of the Florida State Board of Education and the Florida Department of Health.

Our schools will begin the year limiting visitors and parents during the school day to support a healthy and safe school environment. Student and staff quarantining will continue to be a strategy this year to minimize the opportunity for the spread of COVID within the school building and in the community. While we understand that quarantining is disruptive to classrooms and families, it is a necessary prevention strategy. We are committed to maintaining campus sanitation and health protocols that were introduced last school year. Please refer to our website for comprehensive COVID protocol information at www.stjohns.k12.fl.us.

A new school year brings new families, staff, and students, and new learning experiences. I hope that your family enjoyed a memorable summer and is looking forward to the return to school."

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