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Manatee school board approves mask mandate, with opt-out option

The Manatee County School Board is in session Monday morning.
The Manatee County School Board is in session Monday morning.(Manatee County Schools)
Published: Aug. 16, 2021 at 10:17 AM EDT
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BRADENTON, Fla. (WWSB) - The Manatee County School Board Monday voted to direct Superintendent Cynthia Saunders to implement a mask mandate for students and employees -- with an opt-out provision -- to be in effect until Aug. 23.

In an emergency meeting, board Chair Charlie Kennedy offered the motion for a mask mandate in all schools, but allowing students and school employees to opt-out of the requirement.

More than 40 citizens had signed up to comment. The motion passed 3-2, with commissioners Gina Messenger and newly appointed commissioner Chad Choate voting no.

Today’s meeting comes in the wake of data showing 68 cases of COVID-19 were reported in Manatee County school on Friday.

The imposition of a mandate, even with an opt-out clause, goes against Gov. Ron DeSantis’ executive order banning mask mandates. Two other school boards in Florida -- Alachua and Broward -- have mandated masks in their districts, in defiance of DeSantis’ order.

Florida Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran last week threatened to withhold paychecks for school board members superintendents in those districts. The State Board of Education has scheduled an emergency meeting Tuesday “to consider the compliance of school districts, including Broward and Alachua” with the health department rule and a new state law known as the “Parents’ Bill of Rights,” according to a notice of the meeting.

The U.S. Department of Education said it was “deeply concerned” about DeSantis’ executive order and said it was ready to help districts directly, the federal agency said in a letter to the governor Friday.

The letter also said President Joe Biden’s administration will work with school districts and educators directly if the Florida Department of Education does not distribute federal pandemic aid to the districts. Cardona wrote that the federal American Rescue Plan Act signed by Biden in March allocated some $7 billion to support Florida schools.

Florida has not submitted a plan to the federal government about how it intends to spend federal relief money earmarked for schools, though the issue is on the agenda for a State Board of Education meeting on Wednesday. Plans were due on June 7.

- Information from News Service of Florida was used in this report.

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