Mask mandate, with opt-out, approved for Manatee County schools

The Manatee County School Board voted in favor of a mask mandate for students and staff Monday morning.

At an emergency meeting concerning COVID-19 cases in the district, they considered implementing a policy similar to other school districts like Hillsborough County – one in which parents would have the ability to opt their kids out of wearing masks.

The school board voted 3-to-2 in favor of the mandate with the opt-out option.

Last week, in the first week of school, Manatee schools saw 177 positive COVID-19 cases. That's including students and employees.

Last year, there were only 17 positive cases during the first week of school.

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While the superintendent has strongly encouraged face coverings, some members believe this will help students and parents make the decision to mask up.

"I don’t want to mandate and anyone do anything. I want parents to decide what to do for their kids," school board chair Charlie Kennedy said before the vote. "But apparently there’s a great group of people in the middle that will do what the school board and district guide them to do. They will listen to our guidance. For those parents who want to opt out, they can still opt-out. It’s just that I think our campuses are safer if that vast majority in the middle will take our advice."

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Last week, Manatee schools announced COVID-19 safety measures being put back into place. That includes temperature checks for employees and random temperature checks for students, along with deep cleaning and plastic shields in every elementary classroom.

The mask mandate will be in place until August 25.