Florida boy, 8, launches petition to make masks optional in schools

Charlie and his mother went around their neighborhood asking for signatures, collecting 400 in four days

An 8-year-old boy from Seminole County, Florida, received 400 signatures in four days on his petition to make COVID-19 masks optional in school.

The boy, Charlie, and his mother opted to go the traditional route and collect signatures from neighbors rather than post it online, and they received a lot of positive feedback from people in the area.

"It's been ... kind of bad because I can't see a lot of people, and I can't tell if they're happy or sad," Charlie told Fox News.

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The 8-year-old said wearing a mask makes it hard for him to breathe, especially while playing. The idea to start a petition came from something he saw in a book, he said.

"That gave me a good idea, so I decided to start my own petition to make masks optional in school," he said.

8-year-old Florida boy launches petition to make masks optional in schools (Credit: Fox 35 Orlando)

8-year-old Florida boy launches petition to make masks optional in schools (Credit: Fox 35 Orlando)

All of Florida's public schools were completely reopened by October. Seminole County Public Schools, which have about 67,000 students and 10,000 employees, reopened at the beginning of the school year with online and hybrid learning options for families who chose not to send their kids back to full-time, in-person classes.

The county's public schools also currently have a mask mandate that was discussed during a Tuesday school board meeting. 

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Charlie's mother, who spoke on the condition of anonymity after receiving negative feedback regarding the petition, told Fox News that it has been interesting to share her son's perspective with the school board. The board had mostly heard from adults until Charlie took the opportunity at Tuesday's meeting to give his own speech and inspired other students in the process, she explained.

"Wearing masks in school makes it hard for me to breathe," Charlie said in his speech. It’s hard to see my paper when I do my work or take a test. Most of the kids I know in school mess with their masks all day. I don’t see many kids getting sick in my school."

He continued: "If we are healthy, our parents should be able to choose whether or not we wear masks."

Man signs petition to make masks optional in schools (Credit: Fox 35 Orlando)

Man signs petition to make masks optional in schools (Credit: Fox 35 Orlando)

Dan Smith, president of the Seminole Education Association, expressed concern during the meeting that suddenly making masks optional could further spread COVID-19, according to Fox 35 Orlando.

"It would be a shame for ease of use to suddenly take the masks off and get sick again, he said. "We don’t want that."

The board could vote on the mandate and whether to make masks for students optional as early as June 1, Seminole County School Board Spokesman Michael Lawrence told the outlet.

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Charlie and his mother have submitted their petition and a follow-up letter to the school board ahead of the June vote.

"We were really surprised with how many signatures we got," his mother said. "...I would challenge the school board to call anybody on that list because it's not the same families that are showing up with school board members. It's our community."

The Seminole School COVID-19 dashboard shows 52 active cases recorded in the last 10 days, with a maximum of four cases recorded from students at a single school.

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The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends students and teachers wear masks, and that masks are not "a substitute for social distancing." The CDC in March updated its COVID-19 guidelines for schools with revised social distancing recommendations of 3 feet rather than 6 feet.

A CDC study of school reopenings in Florida conducted between August and December of 2020 and published in March found that "fewer than 1% of registered students were identified as having school-related COVID-19."