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Manatee County healthcare workers questioning safety protocol at private school

Manatee County

Photo: WFLA

MANATEE COUNTY (WFLA) – There’s concern surrounding the safety of students and staff at a private Christian School in Bradenton. Local healthcare workers contacted 8 On Your Side after the school posted multiple photos and a video the day students returned to campus.

The photos posted on Inspiration Academy’s social media platforms show students sitting shoulder to shoulder — many without masks on. The school also posted video of a ‘dance off’ during its welcome back assembly. The video shows adults and children without face coverings on and virtually no social distancing.

“When we see these photos of these kids that are going back to school and they have no social distancing and no masks, there seems to be no regard at all for protecting our children from COVID-19. It is very concerning,” said the president-elect of the Manatee County Medical Society Dr. Jennifer McCullen.

8 On Your Side reached out to the school Tuesday for comment regarding the safety protocol in place for students returning back to school. As of 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, we have not received a response.

The school posted a seven-page document detailing the re-opening plan on its website. Here is what the plan says regarding the school’s face mask policy:

“As a community, we have allowed each family, faculty, and staff to decide for themselves whether to wear a mask or not. We respect the opinion of all our stakeholders and want to ensure everyone is comfortable with their choices. Inspiration Academy does recommend the wearing of a face mask as recommended by the CDC guidelines”

The Manatee County School District mandated masks district-wide. That policy does not apply to private schools such as Inspiration Academy. Manatee County officials, however, explain the private Christian school does fall under the county-wide mask resolution passed by the Board of County Commissioners. The resolution requires face coverings inside businesses including places of worship.

“The school district requirements do not apply to private schools such as the one you were referencing,” said Manatee County spokesman Nick Azzara. “Regardless of what kind of establishment it is, people need to take the mandate seriously. It is only when the vast majority of residents take it seriously that it begins to work,” he continued.

Dr. McCullen feels more needs to be done to protect students, staff, and the community from the spread of COVID-19.

“The private schools are private. They can do what they choose to do, but I think they are putting our children at risk and I think they are putting the rest of our community adults at risk,” said. Dr. McCullen. “Life is not normal anymore. Right now, we have to be careful. We have to protect each other and that group did not look like they had any regard for protecting anybody,” she continued.

COVID-19 infection rates in Manatee County are starting to trend downward. Both Dr. McCullen and Azzara say now is not the time to stop following protocol recommended by the CDC.

“As soon as these behaviors occur outside of what the guidelines are as far as masks and hand washing and social distancing, it is going to be a problem again. It is going to actually rise again is my fear. We had a train out of control and I think we are sort of getting that train under control… We need to stay on track; it is very dangerous,” said Dr. McCullen.

“I think if people would take the time to read up on the proven science behind face coverings, they will learn that they are effective. It shouldn’t be political. It shouldn’t be controversial, but at the end of the day it does come down to personal responsibility and it is up to those individuals to make the right decision,” said Azzara.

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