BRADENTON, Fla. — As it did in on Monday, the board of the School District of Manatee County adjourned Wednesday without a vote on whether to change its policy that gives students the option of wearing masks in schools. 

What You Need To Know

  • Board of School District of Manatee County adjourns without voting on mask pollcy 
  • Board members apparently await results of survey of elementary-school parents
  • Some board members appear poised to consider a stronger position on masks

But the board appeared poised to reconsider, with the chairman saying he'd be open to discussion of a mask mandate with an opt-out option — the newly established policy of school districts in Orange, Hillsborough and Seminole counties.

Board members apparently awaits the results of a survey that the district said early this week it would send to parents of elementary school students on where they stand on the question of masks.

Board member Rev. James Golden suggested toward the end of Wednesday’s meeting that the board could consider voting on the issue at its Aug. 24 meeting.

“I look forward to the meeting on the 24th when we should have some results that we can then decide the direction that we want our county to go in, not like our knee-jerk compadres to the north and south and all over the rest of the state,” Golden said.

As schools opened this week amid increased coronavirus cases and hospitalizations, some Florida school districts have scrambled over the past several days to implement mask rules that don’t conflict with Gov. Ron DeSantis’ policies emphasizing parental choice.

The Broward County school board defied the governor this week and maintained its policy that all students wear masks, without an opt-out option. That prompted threats from Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran of financial sanctions against that school district.

Most Tampa Bay and Central Florida school districts, including Manatee, maintain policies that let parents decide whether their children wear masks — creating conflict between parents who stress freedom of choice and parents who emphasize the health and safety of their children.

That leaves school boards in the middle.

“It is painful to be put in the place that the people are trying to put me in — choose masks or opt out — and that the governor’s trying to put me in, which is no mask mandate, when neither of those solves the problem of how to protect ourselves this year, as we did last year,” Manatee board member Golden said, referring to a 2020-21 policy that required all students and employees to wear masks.

Board member Gina Messenger urged COVID-19 vaccination for any parent who doesn’t want to see their child in a mask.

“There is a tremendous amount of research that says, ‘Get vaccinated,’” she said.

As it did during a Monday meeting on the eve of its new school year, the Manatee board heard Wednesday from parents who spoke for and against masks.

One resident in favor of masks said “we want our kids to be protected until this thing goes away.” One parent who spoke against a mandate said, “I believe we all should have a choice, which we didn’t get last year.”

“My stance — I’ll tell anybody — I believe it’s a personal choice, and I believe it as a parent,” board member Chad Choate said during Wednesday’s meeting. “I know what’s best for my kids, and no offense to everybody up here, but you don’t. But that doesn’t mean that I don’t care for everybody else around and all the other kids.”

The board otherwise appeared poised to consider a stronger mask mandate later this month.

Citing Orange County data from Tuesday that showed high mask use in that district, Manatee board chairman Charlie Kennedy said he would “get behind” a mask mandate with opt-out ability if that approach “really is driving much higher mask usage on campus."

Board member Mary Foreman called for the board to consider “some of the same protocols we had last year.”

“I hope and pray that two weeks down the road that the anti-maskers … can say, ‘I told you so,’” Foreman said. “I hope you’re right. I hate gambling with the health of any student or staff member in the county.

“Until I’m proven wrong, I’m not going to let up on it.”