Mask up? District officials in Manatee County to consider future of mask mandate in schools

Manatee County

MANATEE COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) – The School District of Manatee County opened up discussions about what to do with the mask mandate in schools on Friday.

As the Manatee County School Board looks at the future of the mandate, there will be a lot to consider.

Board member Charlie Kennedy wants to let medical experts guide the superintendent into deciding how much longer they require masks. But the board will also be hearing from the community over the next 30 days.

Parents are divided on whether they want their kids learning without masks but many teachers and faculty are still concerned about spread, especially with new strains of the virus showing up.

And while more people are getting vaccinated, positive cases remain too high for many.

“Hypothetically, if positivity rates drop below 5% than we can get rid of the mask mandate,” board member Kennedy said. “If they go above a certain percent, then the mask mandate has to come back.”

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

School board members including Kennedy believe the mask mandate is the reason they’ve been able to keep schools open. While there have been cases of COVID-19 amongst students and faculty, Kennedy thinks wearing masks has stopped community spread from getting out of control.

“There is no playbook. We get advice from medical experts. We look at trends of what has happened and we make the best decisions with what we know,” said Superintendent Cynthia Saunders. “We do feel pretty strongly based on all that evidence that what we proposed really will be a good way moving forward because of the vaccinations, the immunity that students have received up until now as well as employees, as well as we did not see the infection spreading in the schools like we had anticipated at the beginning of the school year,” she continued.

Several parents spoke out against the mask mandate during Friday’s school board workshop.

“I think we are in a good spot. I think the majority of the board members are considering pushing the change to lift the mask mandate and letting it be an option for parents which is all we wanted from the beginning,” said mother Nicole Lynch.

A final decision will be made on May 25.

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