LARGO, Fla. - School boards in Pinellas and Manatee counties heard passionate debates Tuesday from parents and the public over whether students will be required to wear masks this coming school year as the COVID-19 pandemic again infects thousands daily in Florida.
Monday, Governor Ron DeSantis vowed to keep Florida free of a mask mandate, despite the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommending that everyone in K-12 schools wear a mask indoors regardless of vaccination status.
At the Manatee County School Board meeting, masks were an item on the agenda. The system outlined its new COVID-19 protocols for the upcoming school year, which right now makes masks optional and voluntary, giving parents the final say.
Some are worried unmasked students will only cause the number of already rising cases to jump even higher.
In Pinellas County, the concern is top of mind after new data shows 24 employees tested positive for COVID-19 last week. That's more than double from the previous week when 10 employees tested positive.
Meanwhile, in Manatee County, board members say survey results from more than 4,000 parents were split, with half saying they'll send their child to school with a mask and the other half saying they won't.
Board members are weighing whether elementary school students with masks should be separated from unmasked students.
"The only way to really do that and honor that parents request would be if we had enough students in a grade level who could potentially make up a classroom," said the deputy superintendent of instructional services for Manatee County School District, Daniel J. Evan.
In Manatee County, no final decisions have been made on the protocols yet.
Board members will take what they heard from the public Tuesday and vote on their final plan during a special meeting Friday.
However, changes are still possible as the pandemic continues to evolve.