MANATEE COUNTY, Fla. — The Manatee County School Board has approved a mask mandate with an opt-out provision for students and teachers on school campuses through August 25.
The motion passed 3-2 at an emergency meeting Monday morning. This follows a dramatic spike in COVID-19 cases in the area.
View the meeting agenda below
In just the past week, 23 Manatee County government employees have tested positive for COVID-19. As a result, county officials say several libraries will be shut down for the next 10 days for deep cleaning.
The Manatee County School District has also seen impacts.
Right now, Manatee County leaders are tracking outbreaks within the county administration building and utility departments. Since May, county officials say 85 employees have tested positive and three of those people died.
The county administrator also says that in recent weeks the number of fully vaccinated employees contracting COVID-19 has increased significantly.
"It doesn't appear to be the same level of hospitalizations we were seeing earlier on," said Dr. Scott Hopes, the Manatee County administrator. "But these individuals are homesick for a week or two before they begin to recover."
Parents for and against masks in schools shared their thoughts with board members Monday.
“Parents that aren’t masking, aren’t going to mask and those that believe that they need them, they’re still going to do it and it isn’t going to change," said one mother.
“We are all tired, including myself of this virus," one father said via Zoom."We’re all tired of the mask verse no mask debate, we’re all tired of the vaccine debate, but I’ll never be tired of protecting our children in our community. Please mandate masks until this variant is controllable and children have the chance to get vaccinated.”
“My daughter is home this week because of exposure at school and woke up this morning with a fever," another mother said. "I am terrified, I am scared, I’ve been sending her with a mask to school every single day. Three of the children in her kindergarten class are sick and one of the children is not doing well. She is 5 years old."
Reverend James Golden says he doesn’t agree with the Governor barring districts from making their own decisions on a mandate and requiring an opt-out provision.
"Neither of those are acceptable to me. I’m supporting this because it at least supplies more protection than we now have for the children," he said.
And while Board member Gina Messenger stopped short of saying her opinion on masks in schools, she thinks the board voting on a “mandate” is just words.
“Any parent that wants to ensure their child is wearing one, can send a letter today. They don’t have to wait for the board to make this decision, they can send an e-mail now, they can contact their teacher now to do those things," she said.
But, one parent told the board she hasn’t been able to get any answers from the district on whether teachers and staff are encouraging masks, how many kids are wearing them and how many aren't. She also knows his teacher is not wearing one.
“Unfortunately my son's teacher is quite young and refused to wear a mask to protect my child," she said, over Zoom.
Which she says is testing her trust.
The board will meet again next Wednesday to decide if it should extend the mask policy further.