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Manatee County Schools Expected To End Mask Policy

man wearing suit and mask sits at at a table during a video meeting
SCREENSHOT: Manatee County Schools
Manatee County School Board member Charlie Kennedy had to call numerous recesses due to public outbursts from parents opposed to masks at Tuesday night's meeting.

The vote won't affect the current school year, since it comes a day after students' last day of class, but would make masks optional at graduation and summer school.

The Manatee County School Board is expected to vote Friday to lift its mask requirement in the wake of a series of contentious meetings involving parents against keeping the policy.

During the meetings, several parents shouted down board members who mentioned federal guidelines and lingering health concerns as a reason for maintaining face coverings to prevent the spread of coronavirus,

Most, if not all, of the five board members are expected to vote in favor of ending the policy at the Friday 9 a.m. meeting, viewable here.

Parents who attended Tuesday's meeting accused the school board of child abuse, ignoring God's will, and claimed that requiring face coverings was bad for children's physical and mental health.

"I moved here six months ago from California specifically to escape tyranny and government overreach," said Cassandra Prince, a mother of three.

"I really feel like it's time to end this mask mandate. It's gone too far, you guys. The other states are looking to Florida to see what the future holds for them."

The change will affect section B of Policy 8450, essentially removing it from district policy and making face coverings optional beginning May 29.

Since school in Manatee ends Thursday, a day before the vote, the change will affect students and staff at graduations and summer school.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Florida Academy of Pediatrics have said children should continue to wear masks in school, especially since vaccines to prevent COVID-19 are currently approved only for ages 12 and older.

"We will probably be the first county that has masks in the state of Florida to drop our mandate," said board member Charlie Kennedy.

The Florida Department of Education was unable to confirm if Manatee County would indeed be the first.

Twenty-eight school districts statewide — most in rural areas — have already had policies that either recommend face coverings or allow them to be optional, according to Florida Department of Education data.

A department spokeswoman told WUSF: "As you know, districts are updating their policies every day."

Kennedy said other pandemic control measures would be decided in coming weeks.

"Getting rid of the other mitigation techniques like the dividers and social distancing, the board can address that over the summer before we head into the next school year in August," he said.

Superintendent Cynthia Saunders said the district would add "language that supports the ability for people to wear a mask without any type of consequences."

I cover health and K-12 education – two topics that have overlapped a lot since the pandemic began.
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