Florida school districts rejected hundreds of mask opt-out forms
Tampa Bay, Florida — With parental debates, state battles and legal battles over Florida’s school mask mandates continuing, it should come as no surprise that papers giving students the ability to opt out of mask wearing on some school campuses are also stirring controversy across the state.
Currently, about a dozen school districts are wearing Florida masks on campus. About half of them allow the parents to sign the revocation form while the other half require a doctor’s note or the doctor’s signature on the medical release form.
We have been made aware of those districts that require signed medical waiver forms, and at least 675 waivers have been denied by school districts since school began.
In Alachua County, the first school district to mandate masks this year, 85 medical opt-out forms have been received so far. Of those, District 5 declined because the form was signed by “a non-qualified medical professional,” a District spokesperson told us in an email.
In Orange County, as of last week, the county has rejected a total of 20 medical exemption forms. A company spokesperson said the possible reasons are also because the forensic medical provider did not sign the form.
But even forms signed by licensed Florida doctors raised eyebrows.
Last month, a mom in Lyon County told us about a local emergency room doctor charging parents $50 for signed opt-out forms that dads would have on official paper.
Dr. Brian Warden even announced on social media his willingness to help parents get medical waivers. In one post, he felt the need to clarify, “I’m a real doctor.”
As a result, Warden, which provides contract work for the Capital Regional Medical Center in Tallahassee, has been removed from providing services to patients, according to HCA Healthcare spokesperson Rachel Stiles.
“We act with absolute integrity in everything we do, and we expect third-party providers to act in a manner consistent with these values. Once we became aware of this physician’s actions, we began the process of removing him from providing services to our hospital patients,” Stiles told us in the company statement.
Warden did not respond to our request for comment.
In Sarasota County, Venetian chiropractor Dr. Dan Bush made national headlines for signing hundreds of student medical exemption forms. He was accused of running an “exemption mill” by distributing signed forms like candy and without making proper assessments and assessments to students.
Paulina Testerman, a mother of two, helped lead the charge to get rid of Bush’s alleged actions. She leads a group called Stop the Spread SRQ, a grassroots group that supports the school mask mandate and also aims to stop the spread of misinformation about COVID-19.
“At the end of the day, whoever breaks the rules to get what they want has no business working in health care,” Testerman said of Bush’s alleged actions.
Of the 650 medical exemption forms rejected by the Sarasota County District, a spokesperson said forms signed by Dr. Dan Bush make up the most district denials. Recently, the school district’s board of directors voted to limit the types of medical providers eligible to sign waivers. Chiropractors, including Busch, are no longer qualified providers.
Dr. Bush’s lawyer told us that Bush has no comment but his supporters have a lot to say.
“We are not pro-mask, we are not anti-mask, we are pro-parental rights, we are pro-liberty,” Alexis Spiegelman said. She leads the Sarasota chapter of Mothers for Freedom. Spiegelman told us she volunteered for a concession event last weekend at a privately owned entertainment district known in Venice as The Hollow. She said thousands of people turned up for signed mask exemptions from county-certified doctors, but it was still unclear who those doctors were and how they evaluated the students.
Video from Sunday’s event shows rows of cars trying to enter the area, along with throngs of families dressed in red, white and blue. There are food trucks and music, Spiegelmann said. “It was an amazing turnout,” she said. “This is what we’re seeing happening as a result of government overreach,” Spiegelman added.
The Sarasota County school district has not yet released how many new forms it received this week after the event, who the forms were signed or if any of those forms were rejected.
But Jay Wolfson, a USF professor of health policy and expert in medical ethics, said
Medical exemptions require examinations and diagnosis and these records must be kept by the physician who evaluated the person for exemption.
“You can’t count on parents saying my child has asthma or a skin condition. You have to get checked out, you don’t serve lollipops here.”
Wolfson is not involved in or comment on any of the cases or doctors mentioned, but said the rules for practicing medicine and issuing medical exemptions are clear to all medical professionals, even as the political pulse of our societies remains shaky and gray.
“He does medicine, he doesn’t give philosophy lessons or good government lessons, and if he’s doing it because he wants parents to do what they feel comfortable with because of political beliefs, that’s not his job,” said Wolfson.
The Florida Department of Health will not confirm or deny any complaints filed against physicians who have signed an exemption for the masks. No complaints or investigations are published until ten days after a possible cause has been discovered.