Manatee County students, parents protest masks in schools ahead of vote slated for next week

Manatee County

MANATEE COUNTY (WFLA) – Despite the district-wide face covering policy, some students in Manatee County showed up to school Monday without face masks. The peaceful protest was planned ahead of a school board vote slated for next week.

Next week’s vote will determine whether or not face masks will be optional for the 2021-2022 school year.

Madisyn Scheid is a freshman at Palmetto High School who decided to join in on the demonstration Monday. Because she was violating the district’s policy, Scheid tells 8 On Your Side she was left with two options — put on a face mask and go back to class or get picked up from school.

The freshman decided to stand her ground and go home for the day.

“Some people went back to class and some people got picked up,” said Scheid. “Obviously, we don’t want to disrespect the school board and stuff like that so we wear them but I hope this shows them that we really don’t like them and we don’t wanna wear them.”

Pushback from parents has been ongoing for some time. Protesters took to the streets outside district headquarters last week. A large turnout is expected during next week’s public hearing as well.

Sheid’s mother wants to make sure district leaders hear her out.

“Bottom line is – it is my child, it is my choice. I believe that the mask’s impact on mental health is a bigger risk than the COVID-19 virus to my child, therefore I feel like it should be our option to choose,” said Jeni Scheid. “I would love to see it optional and I would love everybody to respect those who want to wear them, everybody to respect who doesn’t. I think all viewpoints should be taken into play.”

Amber Isaac, a mother of three, agrees it’s time for masks to be optional in schools.

“What else do we have to do to get to the next step to get back to normalcy for our students because they are absolutely suffering, our high school students are taking the majority of the impact of this and I just don’t know how long we can ask them to do that,” Isaac said. “It has been a year and a half almost now – for what? For the less than 1% that might have a negative impact. They can no longer take the impact of what this is doing to them.”

Below is the proposed 2021-2022 school year safety plan:

  • Face coverings optional for students and employees
  • Superintendent would have the ability to temporarily require face coverings if:
    • the county’s 7-day positivity rate tops a number still to be determined, likely 8% or 10%
    • a specific school, athletic group, or club has an outbreak of COVID cases
  • Social distancing strongly encouraged when possible
  • Employee temperature checks required, but no more COVID questionnaire
  • Classrooms and schools will be thoroughly cleaned daily
  • Hand-washing and sanitizing strongly encouraged
  • Students sent home sick or at home sick can return to school 48 hours after being symptom-free (current policy is 24 hours)
  • No physical contact during physical education classes or recess
  • The District Operations Center will continue to operate to answer questions and concerns
  • School nurses will monitor sick students and look for signs of patterns or outbreaks of severe illness
  • Employees and students must continue to stay home if sick or having COVID-like symptoms

Parents including Isaac feel there are points that need to be clarified before a vote is made.

“We voted our school board members in and it is their duty to listen to their constituents and vote accordingly. We are taxpayers. We are parents of students that are directly impacted and we wanna be heard and we want our questions answered and I think we are owed that,” said Isaac.

School Board Chair Charlie Kennedy encourages the public’s input. He admits, metrics relating to the proposed policy aren’t a clear cut as they might seem, specifically relating to the 8% positivity rate.

“Many of these state-run testing sites are being shut down, so we are not really sure how accurate of a seven-day positivity average we will have,” said Kennedy. “That was one of the concerns of the public: if you only have 100 tests given in a day and eight of them are positive… you are at 8%. Granted, we are talking about a seven-day average and not a day-to-day rate but the board and the superintendent, we have to kind of go back to the drawing board on what is that backstop going to be. If we don’t have a reliable positivity rate average, what metric do we use if we want to even discuss bringing a mandatory masks back?”

Parents and students will have an opportunity to share their input during a public hearing Tuesday, May 25.

“I think everybody should have the option to do what they think is best for fit for their child and their family,” said Scheid.

“As we all know, there are diverse opinions about the efficacy and safety of mask wearing in schools, so we are trying to balance all of that input and come up with a policy that makes sense for the summer and going into next school year,” said Kennedy.

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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