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Manatee schools pull away from pandemic

Live events return at the end of the school year, and hopes are high that the pandemic is in the rear-view mirror.

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Ashlie Fulmer, a school support specialist at Gilbert W. McNeal Elementary School, watched her son Preston Fulmer perform in the first in-person fifth grade talent show the school has been able to have since the spring of 2019.

McNeal Elementary hosted several in-person events at the end of this school year, such as the fifth grade "moving on" ceremony, Leadership Day and the talent show, that had to be done virtually the past two years due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“It feels like we’ve ended the year in normalcy,” Fulmer said. “We’ve don’t take things for granted.”

Although the School District of Manatee County reported 5,594 COVID-19 cases throughout the district during the school year, Kevin Chapman, the chief of staff for the district, said schools were able to end the year back to normal.

Popular celebrations and events returned including high school proms, and Parent-Teacher Organization events such as father-daughter dances. 

As the school year ended, Chapman said the district continued to report positive cases on the dashboard on the district’s website and notify parents of their choice to keep exposed students at home or send them back to school if they were symptom free. The district also continued to coordinate weekly with the Florida Department of Health Manatee. 

“We stayed the course all the way to the last day,” Chapman said. 

To help address any learning loss students might have had as a result of losing class time due to the pandemic, Chapman said teachers and staff have used benchmark assessments that are conducted throughout the school year to measure students’ progress. The results of the assessments helped teachers make adjustments to their lessons. 

“We’re confident that students, through their hard work and through their teachers’ hard work, ended the year strong and caught up from those last two years of high COVID numbers,” Chapman said. 

The district saw spikes in reported positive COVID-19 cases at schools in the beginning of the school year and in January, causing the district to continue to make adjustments to protocols throughout the school year. 

“At this point, I think everybody is used to living with COVID and understanding all that needs to be done to prevent getting COVID,” Chapman said. “Our families and employees are pretty much used to this kind of COVID cycle we’re now living through.”

Chapman said the district will continue to monitor COVID-19 case numbers in the county in collaboration with the Florida Department of Health Manatee throughout the summer.

“As of right now, we are hoping we can start next year on a stronger footing than we did this school year when it comes to COVID,” he said.


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