Manatee Co. school district holds off on vote, still no mask mandate


MANATEE COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) – For the third time in just one week, Florida has broken its record for new, daily COVID-19 cases.

On Friday, the state reported nearly 24,000 cases to the CDC. That’s 20% of the nation’s total for that day. Florida still accounts for one in five new cases around the country.

It also marks seventeen days in a row Florida has seen more than 10,000 new cases, and as students return to the classroom this week the dominant delta variant has some parents worried about the safety of their kids.

What to do about masks in schools has been left up in the air the past few weeks as the debate over kids wearing masks played out on the political stage, but with school starting Tuesday, the time is now for school leaders to make a decision.

While Hillsborough County is one of the first districts to finalize their mask and COVID plan for the school year, Manatee County met on Monday to discuss the matter. The district sent out surveys to parents a few weeks ago.

The results are in, and school leaders say that the recommendations from the CDC and health department will help shape their decision. For a while now, parents were left without a clue on what to do on day one.

“It’s very important I don’t want him to get sick, people are passing away from, so that’s a very big concern. There’s no age limit on this illness and who it takes out,” said Jasmine Nunez, a parent in Manatee County.

No change was made in Monday’s special meeting; schools in Manatee will open to students Tuesday with an optional mask policy. School board members are scheduled to meet again on Wednesday.

“As parents, we should have the right to choose what is best for the health and well-being of our children — not the government, not the school board, nobody needs to tell me what is right for my children,” said mother of two Julia McLaughlin.

The topic of having kids wear masks again in the classroom became taboo as politicians fight over whether it was a right for freedom or right to save children’s lives.

Gov. Ron DeSantis passed an executive order stopping schools from passing mask mandates, some districts rebelled passing them anyway, and now other districts are trying to find loopholes or gray area. Many school leaders want to protect children but not lose funding from the state for doing so.

“We know that masks don’t solve the problem, but we know that masks work,” said a nurse and mother of two in Manatee County. “We know that they mitigate the spread, we know they reduce infection and to send our children back into an environment without that in place during a pandemic is really unconscionable to me,” continued Haley Rehm.

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