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Parents of students with medical conditions explain need for mask exemption

HILLSBOROUGH COUNTY, Fla. — Masks will be part of the uniform for students across the Tampa Bay area this new school semester. As kids head back to class in Hillsborough County, some students with certain medical conditions can get a mask exemption.

Barbara Cardwell’s soon-to-be second-grader will be back in class in a matter of days. Her son has a sensory processing disorder and receives therapies through school. Since school has been out in March, she says he’s regressed.

“Some of these kids need the one-on-one, hand-over-hand kind of instruction that you can’t get via zoom,” said Cardwell. “It’s not just academics that these kids need. It’s all this other stuff that neurotypical kids don’t need, but kids that have these disabilities, they need very structured help by trained professionals.”

This week, Hillsborough County Public Schools released a face covering medical exemption form. If a student has a medical, physical or psychological condition preventing them from wearing a mask, their parent will need to fill out the form and attach a medical certification from a licensed health care provider with the medical reason for the waiver.

The district otherwise requires students and staff to wear masks on campus.

ABC Action News spoke one-on-one with Superintendent Addison Davis as schools prepare to reopen. We asked how they’ll be sure the forms won’t be abused.

“We’re going to review it on the district level. We have district staff, and we also have a medical practitioner within our confines that will also help with that process, and we’ll leverage the staff that we have,” said Davis. “We’ll be reviewing it on a case by case basis to make sure that validation is followed through with integrity.”

Davis says they will make sure teachers and staff know if a student’s exemption has been approved, without going into the details on the form.

Some people have questioned if a student can’t wear a mask on why they should be in school face-to-face at all. But Cardwell explains therapies are critical. She says they plan first to try and see if her son will wear a mask in school, however, she says for those who can’t, they shouldn’t be excluded.

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“It physically will hurt him to have certain clothing on. That’s just going to mess up the entire school day for them,” said Cardwell. “They’re going to have increased behaviors. They’re not going to be able to concentrate. I mean it physically hurts some of these kids.”

All Hillsborough County students will start Monday, August 24 with eLearning for the first week of school. On August 31, students can transition back to brick and mortar learning if they choose.

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