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School districts fine-tune back-to-school plans amid new surge in COVID-19 cases

With masks remaining optional, Manatee and Sarasota counties are hoping the school year will open as normally as possible

BRADENTON, Fla. — Districts leaders in Manatee and Sarasota counties are hoping the school year will open as normally as possible despite concerns about rising COVID-19 cases.

The Manatee County School board met Tuesday to discuss requirements ahead of the August 10 opening including proposed COVID protocols. 

Last week, around 18,000 elementary school parents filled out a survey on masking and if they would prefer a mask-only classroom for their children.

Nearly half of the 4000 parents who responded said they plan to mask up their kids while the others said they would opt for their kids not wearing masks.

Credit: Manatee County Schools
Parents of elementary school students responded to a survey from Manatee County Schools

In Sarasota Schools, both masks and vaccines are optional and district officials said there were no discussions of bringing back remote learning or concurrent teaching.

RELATED: DeSantis opposes masks in schools as COVID cases rise

"My kids are all young so they're going to have to mask up regardless," said Cedric Hameed of Sarasota.

Hameed is a dad with children in Sarasota County schools and said more dialogue needs to continue as both parents and officials work to keep everyone safe

"I think there's a lot to learn from everyone I think that no one in our area or even the world at this point wants to continue to keep dealing with changing of the challenges," Hameed said.

 A Sarasota County Schools spokesperson said the district is also is working with the Health Department on a social distancing plan. However, they added that social distancing can't be guaranteed and would depend on the number of students and staff in a location.

"I hope they become normal and the kids can go back to school because it was very difficult for them, being enclosed and not much activities," said Ana Ricone, whose grandchildren are of elementary age.

"Just praying for everything to become normal and for the kids, the situation is really bad for the kids, they are all depressed," Ricone said.

The CDC reversed course on indoor masks in parts of the US where COVID is surging - including Florida. They recommend teachers and students should return to schools wearing masks this fall.

"We have to keep masking up just for the fact that we take this very seriously and my kids are all under the age of 12 so we have to mask up anyway," Hameed said.

The Sarasota County school board met in mid-July and below is a list of key points they covered and recent updates.

  • Our goal is to open the school year as normally as possible. At this time we plan to allow all extracurricular activities and utilize volunteers in the classrooms.
  • Our district has an optional face mask policy. It was just approved by the School Board at their last meeting (July 13th). Our traditional public schools will use the new optional face mask policy that was approved by the School Board.
  • We are still being advised by the local Department of Health to implement social distancing when possible. Social distancing cannot be guaranteed and is dependent on the number of students and staff in any location at a given time.
  • We will continue to follow DOH guidelines utilizing current quarantine procedures. Classrooms, as well as high traffic areas and touchpoints, will continue to be cleaned regularly, as they were throughout this past year.
  • At this point there is no discussion of bringing back remote learning & concurrent teaching. If a student misses class for an extended amount of time they will receive homework packets and assignments by picking them up or through our portal. This is the same process we have used prior to COVID-19.
  • Schools are still working on items like supply lists – we are linking to these on our district website as items become available. When available, supply lists can also be found on individual school websites.
  • Parents & guardians are encouraged to register their new student/re-register their existing student for the upcoming school year if they have not done so already. Information can be found at www.sarasotacountyschools.net/register
  • If eligible, parents & guardians are also encouraged to fill out their child’s free & reduced lunch application. Information can be found on our website here: https://www.sarasotacountyschools.net/Page/1332

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