12-year-old fights for mask mandate in schools

(JACKSONVILLE, Fla.) — Lila Hartley, from Jacksonville, Florida, took matters into her own hands when she heard Duval County Public Schools wouldn’t require masks for the upcoming school year: She wrote a letter to the school board and superintendent pushing for a mask mandate.

“I would like to encourage the requirement of masks at school in Duval County. Right now, especially while the Delta variant is surging, hospitalizing and killing so many kids. I really believe masks should be required,” she wrote in the letter, which was shared with “Good Morning America.”

“This pandemic is still around,” Lila told “GMA” of why she wrote the letter. “People are still dying and getting sick. Masks save lives, and I don’t want my brother to die.”

While Lila and her family are vaccinated, her brother Will, 10, is too young to receive the vaccine.

“I am so worried that if masks are not required my brother could go to school one day and the next be dying in the hospital,” the letter continued. “We are siblings so we have our rivalries but I don’t know what I would do if he died, especially if it was caused by a place that means so much to him, school.”

Will is also a big supporter of masks and finds himself reminding his friends to wear theirs properly.

“Masks do help us,” he told “GMA.” “I wear my mask because even though the rest of my family is vaccinated, there’s still a chance they can get it.”

Lila emailed a copy of her letter to the board on July 26, and has only heard back from one of the board members so far, she said.

On July 30, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis issued an executive order banning schools from requiring masks. If schools are found to be in violation, they may lose state funding.

According to the governor’s office, the order was in response to “several Florida school boards considering or implementing mask mandates” and to “protect parents’ freedom to choose whether their children wear masks.”

Following the executive order, the Duval County school board held a meeting Aug. 3 to decide on whether it would require masks for the upcoming school year.

Lila and her brother demonstrated with a number of others outside the meeting in favor of masks, while her father, Matt Hartley, and other parents, educators, and medical professionals voiced their opinions inside.

“We wanted to support dad because he’s been working hard,” Lila said.

“We’re fighting for ourselves, but we’re fighting for other kids too,” Hartley told “GMA.” “That’s our M.O. — we love our neighbors.”

The board voted 5-2 in favor of requiring masks with a parental opt-out. Parents will not have to provide a reason for opt-outs.

Hartley said that while the vote did “make things a lot better with masking,” he’s “disappointed” as it still leaves a lot of room for people to not wear them.

In a statement provided to ABC News, Duval County School Board Chairwoman Elizabeth Anderson said, “The Board’s emergency policy decision Tuesday night creates the best balance between our deeply held responsibility for the safety and welfare of students and staff while fully respecting parental choice under the Governor’s order.”

“It’s important to wear masks because it keeps each other safe,” Lila, who one day hopes to be secretary of state, said. “If I’m wearing a mask and the other person is wearing a mask then we’re both safe and not giving each other our germs and possibly COVID.”
 

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