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Manatee and Pinellas say no to mask mandate; masks will be optional

Posted at 6:28 AM, Aug 09, 2021

PINELLAS COUNTY, Fla. — During an emergency meeting Monday, the Manatee and Pinellas County School Boards refused to implement a mask mandate to fight COVID-19, saying state rules wouldn't allow it.

RELATED: Hillsborough schools to require masks, but give parents option to opt-out their student

Hillsborough County Schools will require masks but will give parents an opt-out form. This is mandated by the Florida Department of Education to ensure the district will continue to receive state funding.

Manatee County's School Board started their meeting Monday morning at 10 a.m. with parts of the early discussion centering on the legal differences on certain words like shall or must. The Manatee board was told by county lawyers that under the current guidance from the state, no "mandates" would be allowed.

The school board said it would work with the Manatee Health Department to identify cases in schools. The Manatee School Board said the health department has a full-time epidemiologist and contact tracer and if you’ve had Covid, they have a record of it. The board was also told the health department has a record of everyone in the county who has been vaccinated. The school board said staff who is vaccinated but exposed and symptom-free won't have to miss time. The same rule applies to those who have had COVID, were exposed, but symptom-free.

In Pinellas County, Dr. Michael Grego, Pinellas County Schools Superintendent, and Dr. William Corbett, Deputy Superintendent, along with staff reviewed the information regarding the 2021-2022 school year issued by the Florida Department of Education (FDOE) and the Florida Department of Health (FDOH) on various school safety procedures related to the pandemic.

The superintendent said they will stick with "strongly recommended" as the language for masks in school this year. Officials told them that principals said they were comfortable with that language. The district doesn't like the idea of opt-out paperwork. They want teachers to teach and not be mask police.