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Manatee School District Approves Mask Mandate With Opt-Out Clause

 Manatee school board member Gina Messenger and Chad Choate, who was appointed to the board by Governor Ron DeSantis, voted against the policy.
Manatee school board member Gina Messenger and Chad Choate, who was appointed to the board by Governor Ron DeSantis, voted against the policy.

The policy lasts through Aug. 25, and will be considered again at a school board meeting next week.

The Manatee County School Board on Monday approved a mask mandate with opt-out provision, after the district counted as many coronavirus cases in the first week of school as it had in the first two months last year.

"We've got some really serious things going on in schools and I don't think anyone can doubt that,” said school board member Mary Foreman, urging the board to act because of the highly contagious delta variant.

"This is a different virus, guys. This is way more contagious and it is spreading so we have to do something that is going to make a change."

After hours of debate and public comment, the board narrowly voted for the mask mandate, 3-2.

It applies to all students and staff on campus through Aug. 25.

Board member Gina Messenger voted against the policy change, but she issued a personal plea to parents.

"Please, I am asking our adults to get vaccinated because what is happening right now is adults and children are bringing it into our schools,” Messenger said.

The policy abides by state law, allowing parents to make the final decision and “opt-out” from the mandate.

Hillsborough County has a similar policy, and district officials there say about 14% of parents have signed a form to say their children do not need to wear a mask.

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Unlike some other area counties, Manatee is not reporting how many children and staff are in quarantine due to exposure to the coronavirus.

The Manatee school district reported close to 200 cases in the first week of school — about the number reported in the first two months of last year.

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