Parents show support for the Sarasota County school mask policy in October 2020.

SARASOTA — Masks or no masks?

The Sarasota County School Board held a lengthy discussion about the topic at a workshop Tuesday.

In the end, they decided to leave things as they are with a mandatory mask policy in place for students through the last three weeks of the school year.

Michael Drennon, of the Sarasota County Health Department, said more students in the county have been receiving vaccines, with 820 students getting shots on Saturday at Sarasota Square Mall.

School Board Chair Shirley Brown asked Drennon if the CDC has announced new protocols for schools yet.

“The CDC recommends that masks stay in place in schools,” Drennon said. “The guidelines do not differentiate between teachers and students. Even though the risk is extremely low, we want to make the campus environment as safe as possible.”

Board member Bridget Zeigler suggested calling an emergency meeting to invoke a policy to make masks optional, arguing families should have a choice about wearing masks.

Board member Tom Edwards pointed out there are only three weeks left in the school year and the current mask policy is set to expire June 30.

“We need to be consistent and keep things the way there are until the end of the year,” Edwards said. “Graduations are already planned out … to make changes at this point would be a mistake.”

Vice Chair Jane Goodwin said she’s received a lot of emails and texts from parents who do not want the board to change the mask mandate.

Brown said as chair, she would be reluctant to call an emergency meeting.

“It would upset the plans that our schools have in place,” she said.

“Let’s look at creating a new policy in July.”

Drennon said he believes the next group of students to be eligible for the vaccination are 5 to 11 years old.

“I think that may happen by the end of the summer or next fall.”

Wellen Park update

The School Board approved the final closing documents for the exchange agreement for the future school sites in Wellen Park.

This purchase involves the exchange of a School Board-owned 60 acre K-8 site valued at $7.13 million for new land for a future K-8 and high school site valued at $17.3 million.

The final documents for the exchange agreement are now complete and include a second amendment to the exchange agreement, a temporary access easement, a special warranty deed and a seller closing affidavit.

Strategic plan update

DeliverEd CEO Corey Gordon shared results of a study that looked at the 5-year strategic plan goals of the district.

“The district is in the middle of a reorganization that is intended to strengthen the clarity of the delivery chain and who ‘owns’ what,” Gordon said.

The mission is “Working as one for the success of all.”

To determine Sarasota County’s current capacity to achieve its goals for students, DeliverEd staff gathered evidence from key stakeholders.

“We spoke to community members through town halls, district staff and we also looked at performance reviews,” Gordon said. “We found the district is very strong in problem solving. Far and away, the No. 1 strength highlighted by everyone is the dedicated and talented staff at all levels.”

New fire training facility

Assistant Superintendent Jody Dumas updated the board on a new fire training academy. The 32,000-acre complex would be located off Knights Trail near Venice on property that the county owns.

“We are moving closer to transitioning to the new facility,” Dumas said. “This is a partnership with the county. We could tentatively breaking ground in November.”

“I am really in support of this,” Goodwin said. “We are a growing community and this would really be in a centrally accessible area. Right now, we’re too much inside the city of Sarasota. This is the perfect time to make this partnership.”

The next workshop and meeting is scheduled for June 1.


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