A school district in Sarasota County, Florida, has tightened its mask policy after a chiropractor signed hundreds of medical exemption forms that allowed students to opt out of wearing masks in schools, officials said.
The Sarasota County School Board had voted in August to implement a 90-day mandatory mask policy for students, employees, visitors and vendors, with exceptions for medical reasons or if wearing a face mask would not be consistent with a student’s Individualized Education Plan.
Then on September 1, the district updated its policy to only accept medical exemption forms from licensed medical doctors, osteopathic physicians or advanced registered nurse practitioners, Superintendent Brennan Asplen said in a letter to families and employees.
The decision was due in part to a chiropractor who signed hundreds of medical forms exempting students from the mask mandate, a district official told CNN. Chiropractors are not medical doctors.
The school district has rejected about 650 medical exemption forms, the “majority” of which were signed by Dan Busch, a chiropractor at Twin Palms Chiropractic in Venice, it said.
Busch has defended signing the forms, he told CNN affiliate WWSB.
“Every evaluation that I performed was very specific, and I performed them in my scope of practice,” Busch said last month. “I had to stay very specific to the diagnoses that were in my wheelhouse; there are plenty that weren’t.”
Busch’s lawyer on Tuesday told CNN Busch had no comment.
Asked a day later by CNN about the exemption forms and whether he had examined every child for whom he signed one, Busch said, “This wasn’t about me. This is about parents’ freedom.”
CNN later reached out to Busch’s lawyer who said Busch had no comment.
Mask mandates in schools have been a polarizing issue across the country as millions of students have returned to classrooms amid the prevalence of the Delta variant of the coronavirus, which is more contagious and may cause more severe illness than earlier strains.
And the topic is red hot in Florida, where Gov. Ron DeSantis has sparred with local officials who want to impose mask mandates in schools. DeSantis in July signed an executive order directing the state education and health departments to issue emergency rules that give parents the choice of whether their children wear masks in class. The state threatened to withhold funding from districts that violated DeSantis’ order.
Amid legal challenges, a judge in Florida’s 1st District ruled Friday in favor of an emergency appeal from DeSantis, blocking local school masking requirements for now, court documents showed.
Sarasota County has a high level of Covid-19 transmission, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention People living in areas with “substantial” or “high” rates of transmission should wear masks indoors, even if vaccinated, CDC guidance says.
Parents split on masks in schools
Before Sarasota County changed its mask policy, parents had lined up outside Busch’s office, awaiting his signature on their mask exemption forms.
Caitlyn Sparks was one parent who attempted to get an opt-out form signed by Busch.
“I think it’s great because many doctors are refusing to sign it, and this is one doctor that is actually volunteering his time with no pay to sign all of these forms,” Sparks told CNN affiliate WFLA. “I think it’s ridiculous to have to wear a mask for eight hours a day.”
Meanwhile, Jules Scholles, whose daughter is in kindergarten in Sarasota County, believes Busch’s behavior puts many people at risk, she told CNN.
“I think he’s not only putting students and children at risk, but he’s also putting the students and children that they go to school with at risk. And additionally the community here in Sarasota,” Scholles said.
“The point of masking is you wear your mask to protect me; I wear my mask to protect you. And so once we start kind of getting away from that, it really becomes a concern not only for the classroom, for the teachers, though. And then also for health care workers,” Scholles added.
CNN’s Kate Conerly and Anne Clifford contributed to this report.