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Temporary mask ‘mandate’ in effect for students, staff

HOLMES BEACH – The Manatee County School Board passed a temporary mask mandate for all students and staff – with an opt-out provision – in an emergency meeting today.

A regular meeting is scheduled for Tuesday, Aug. 24 at 5 p.m., and while the agenda has not yet been released, it is likely that an extension of the mandate will be discussed, among other COVID-19-related issues.

According to the School District of Manatee County, there have been 129 confirmed COVID-19 cases among students and 50 staff cases countywide since Aug. 10. No cases at Anna Maria Elementary have been reported so far.

As parents lined up to pick up their children on Tuesday, Aug. 10 after the first day of school, AME looked very much like any other first day before the pandemic changed everything.

Some children were wearing masks, but the majority were not. It was the same for faculty as they assisted children to get on the bus or line up the children for parents to pick up.

Students board the bus on the first day of school at Anna Maria Elementary. – Jason Schaffer | Sun

According to Principal Mike Masiello, many activities such as school plays will return this year after being canceled last year due to COVID. Students and parents also got to attend a live orientation prior to the start of school, something that was done virtually last year. In-person meetings between parents and staff are slated to return this year, at least for now.

“Because of COVID last year, we could only communicate through text and email, but this year we’ve been able to go to parent night and go see the classroom and meet the teachers. Fingers crossed it will stay that way, but we know that could change at any moment,” said Lori Zaworski, while waiting to pick up her first grade daughter on the first day of school.

Zaworski said the decision to wear a mask was left up to her daughter, who chose to go without the mask, but did ask her mother to put one in her backpack in case she changed her mind once she got to school.

Anna Maria Elementary students are dismissed on the first day of the 2021-22 school year. – Jason Schaffer | Sun

“Personally, I feel that every parent should have their choice regarding the masks. Personally, it hasn’t hit close to me or my family; we haven’t lost anybody close to us. Maybe if we had lost a family member I would think differently, but it appears that if you are young and don’t have a compromised immune system, you’ll live through it. If me or my daughter were to get it, we would take the appropriate precautions and quarantine, but I think we’d be OK,” Zaworski added.

According to Principal Masiello, the school hasn’t had many calls or messages from parents on the mask issue as of the first day of school, but there are parents who feel strongly on both sides.

“We’re perfectly happy to do what the teachers are most comfortable with,” said Scott Hagen, who has a daughter in the second grade. “This whole thing has avalanched into political finger-pointing that everything seems to avalanche into nowadays. I would prefer a mask mandate. I would prefer sending my kids to school knowing they’re safe. I would prefer that my second grade daughter didn’t have to look around the school and see some people wearing them and some people not wearing them.”

Hagen’s daughter is wearing a mask at school. He said they talked about it as a family and given the information, she made the choice to wear the mask.

“I understand the talking point of giving parents control, but if parents don’t like sending their kids to school when masks are mandated, then maybe they can find other options,” Hagen said. “This is about a village, a collective, a group, and we’re trying to keep everybody safe. We are a family that believes in science, and the science is pretty clear on this issue.”

The county has updated its COVID-19 protocols to include the following:

  • All students who are sick or have symptoms will be sent home until they are symptom-free.
  • Take temperature checks daily for all employees and randomly for students.
  • Reinforce and practice proper handwashing techniques among students and staff.
  • Provide and encourage the use of hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol.
  • Deep clean schools and busses daily, or in between uses as needed.
  • Make every effort to social distance as much as possible in schools.
  • Provide plastic shields in elementary classrooms and cafeterias where possible.
  • All employees will answer COVID-related questions daily upon arriving at work.
  • Limit non-essential visitors and volunteers to school campuses.
  • Everyone who is eligible to be vaccinated is strongly encouraged to get vaccinated.

Updated information regarding changes in policy and protocols is available at www.manateeschools.net.

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