BRADENTON, Fla. (WFLA) – Unlike in neighboring Hillsborough and Sarasota counties, the Manatee County School Board decided Tuesday night to extend its mask policy with a universal parental opt-out form through Oct. 29.
This emergency mask policy for Manatee Schools had been set to expire at the end of the school day Wednesday, Aug. 25.
Last week both Hillsborough and Sarasota School boards decided to implement stricter mask rules that go against the COVID-19 protocols set forth in a notice of emergency rules from the Florida Department of Health.
Since the start of the new school year, Manatee Schools report that more than 800 students and more than 150 employees have tested positive for coronavirus. On Monday alone, the district directed 411 new students to stay home in quarantine.
The mask debate that has been on display at school board meetings across the state returned to the meeting room in Bradenton.
“I still find it alarming that our school board members have decided to make medical decisions for us the parents,” one mother said during public comment.
Father of four Dave Dean spoke of his frustration with the orders from Gov. Ron DeSantis while asking the board to extend the mask mandate until late October.
“I appreciate the board to uphold the public school health and safety conditions being made solely based on the latest medical science and local conditions and not our governor’s overreach and dictates,” Dean said.
A Manatee Schools spokesperson told 8 On Your Side more than 5,300 families have opted their children out of wearing a mask. That’s about 13 percent of more than 40,000 students in traditional schools.
Concerns about enforcement came up in the meeting and mother Kristine Ellington told 8 On Your Side she has not filled out the form.
“I haven’t had to do that cause up to this point I’ve had no teachers tell my kids to put their face masks on,” she said.
Only 25 percent of elementary school families responded to a district survey about masks. 52 percent of those who responded said they preferred mask-only classrooms, while 27 percent said they preferred no mask classrooms.
Manatee school board members had considered masked and unmasked classrooms, but the district’s attorney shot down that proposal saying it would violate the nondiscrimination clause.
Before public comment, school board chair Charlie Kennedy suggested placing stricter mask rules in the dress code through Oct. 1 with limited opt-outs for medical reasons and individualized plans.
But that never reached a vote after facing pushback from parents in the meeting room and other board members.
Ultimately, the board voted 3-2 to extend the existing mask policy that gives every parent the choice to opt-out.