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Public schools opened their doors Aug. 16, but some parents and physicians greeted the new school year with concerns about the Volusia County School Board’s decision to make masks optional for students.

Statewide, more than 800 doctors, including at least seven from Volusia County, have signed an open letter asking Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis to reverse course on an executive order threatening to take funding away from school districts that mandate masks.

“Enough is enough. Florida needs to mask up, get vaccinated, and have a governor willing to lead,” the letter reads.

More than 1,000 people have signed a petition started by Dr. Asal Johnson, an associate professor of public health at Stetson University, asking the Volusia County School Board to make masks mandatory for everyone in the county’s public schools.

The School Board decided in June 2021 to make masks optional for students for the 2021-22 school year, and upheld that decision despite the growing prevalence of the more-transmissible delta variant, and an increasing number of students with COVID-19 infections.

Recently, Superintendent Scott Fritz made masks mandatory for all adults in schools, including teachers, volunteers and other visitors, for the first 30 days of the school year.

Johnson spoke before the Volusia County School Board at its last meeting before the school year began. Public health depends on everyone working together, especially where masks are concerned, she argued.

“It’s been well-established that if everyone wears them, they greatly reduce the rate of infection,” Johnson said. “As epidemiologists, we would like to underscore, masks are most effective only when everyone wears them.”

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