School mask requirements have become a flash point of debate across the country, with board meetings erupting into chaos over disputes about the mandates. A superintendent in Texas reported last month that a parent pulled a teacher’s mask off during a disagreement. And a Florida father was arrested outside his daughter’s school last week after clashing with a student about masks.
As Florida became a coronavirus hot spot this summer, the school district in Sarasota County enacted an emergency mask mandate that took effect on Monday. Students with valid medical excuses could opt out of the face-covering requirement — but only with a doctor’s signature.
Sarasota County Schools is one of 10 districts in Florida that have defied Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis’s July 30 executive order barring school mask mandates, even as state officials threatened to withhold funds equal to top administrators’ salaries. More than half of Florida students now attend schools that require students to mask up. Some parents have sought to evade those mandates, while others have sued the governor over his executive order in a push to allow schools to set their own mask policies.
In Sarasota County, where the majority of residents voted for President Donald Trump in the 2020 election, the chiropractor argued that the school district’s initial exemption form allowed for a variety of health-care professionals to sign.
“It is any Florida licensed health-care physician,” Busch told WFLA before the form was changed on Tuesday. “Your dentist could do this, your psychiatrist could do this, your psychologist can do this.”
The chiropractor told local media that he was examining children for conditions that would allow them to be waived from mask requirements.
“The parent and child come in, we evaluate what their conditions are, see if they have a valid legitimate condition that would warrant a mask exemption,” Busch told WWSB on Monday. “If they do not, they have to go on their way.”
A district spokesperson told the Sarasota Herald-Tribune that by Wednesday, it had received so many forms signed by Busch that it felt compelled to tighten the rules for obtaining a medical exemption.
Superintendent Brennan Asplen clarified the requirements for families seeking signatures from health-care providers who can authorize exemptions. He sent a letter to parents emphasizing the importance of complying with the district’s mask mandate unless students have legitimate conditions that make wearing a face covering difficult.
“One of the exceptions in the policy is for medical reasons,” Asplen said. “So that we can be consistent in our consideration of whether medical reasons warrant individuals to be exempt from the policy and to prevent abuse, as of Wednesday, September 1, 2021, the School Board will only accept the updated medical exception form which is available on the district website for parents and employees.”
That form was also updated on Tuesday to specify the types of medical professionals authorized to sign the exemption request.
Under the new rules, Busch is not eligible to sign the form.
The chiropractor and his attorney did not immediately return a request for comment from The Washington Post.