MANATEE COUNTY (WFLA) – When Manatee County students and teachers return to class in a few weeks, face masks will be optional.
The decision to make masks optional came in late May. Parents in support of optional face-coverings rallied outside district headquarters before multiple public meetings, but not everyone was on board with the district’s decision. Some parents expressed their concerns, specifically for students under 12 who are still ineligible to get vaccinated.
“The CDC guidelines have been everyone who is not vaccinated should wear masks, so it doesn’t really make much sense removing masks from our sixth graders and our elementary kids,” said mother Jessica Patterson.
Patterson decided to homeschool her two youngest children last year due to coronavirus concerns. This school year, she’s sending them back into the classroom setting, but with face masks. The mother has growing concerns with the rising prevalence of the delta variant.
“It does not feel good. I think that this variant is going to run through all the schools. Whether it affects the kids and whether they get sick or hospitalized, hopefully not, but it remains to be seen because it is a new variant, we don’t know a lot about it,” said Patterson.
The school district is looking at ways to accommodate concerned elementary school parents who want their children back in school, but are unable to get them vaccinated due to eligibility restrictions.
A survey went out earlier this week, asking those who plan on sending their children to school with facemasks, if they would “prefer they be in a classroom setting with other children wearing a face mask/covering, if available.”
Some parents think the idea is absurd. Katherine Morningstar, a grandmother of two Manatee County students, feels separating the children is just too much.
“I don’t understand why we still have to make children feel like they are not accepted by their classmates by segregating them,” Morningstar said. “If they want to wear masks, I am not saying they can’t or shouldn’t. It is their parents’ and their decision, but I don’t understand why they should be put in a separate location.”
Patterson, on the other hand, thinks the idea could add an extra layer of protection for students.
“I would prefer her to be in a classroom with all masks. It is not perfect… It is just some protection because they are spending all day in class,” said Patterson. “If most of the kids are masked, then we have much higher protection. If there is anyone that is positive, it may not spread as fast as it would in other classrooms where there are no masks or if only some are wearing masks.”
School Board Chair Charlie Kennedy explains no decision has been made. School leaders just want to see what parents think of the possibility.
“The survey is kind of just a step one to see what kind of demand is out there and if there is demand out there for masked classrooms,” said Kennedy. “It is really just for information right now. We are not making any decisions. We are just collecting data. We will look at data and the school board will meet next week to discuss.”
The next school board meeting is scheduled for Tuesday, July 27 at 5 p.m.