Manatee Schools mocked for viral video

The district video was intended to show new safety measures in schools but instead has become the target of internet mockery.

The internet is having a good laugh at the Manatee County School District, after a video showing new COVID-19 safety measures went viral on social media.

The video features children and teachers from Rogers-Garden Elementary School’s summer program; the district created it to show parents what to expect when their child returns to school.

It’s a standard, government-produced informational video, not the kind that typically racks up millions of views and thousands of comments.

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But when Sarasota comedian Tiffany Jenkins saw the video, she felt like she was watching a scene from a young adult dystopia, with mask-wearing children being instructed by teachers in lab coats, while others quietly ate their sad, socially distanced lunch.

Jenkins posted a clip of the video to TikTok on July 22, saying, “It looks a little apocalyptic-y. A little ‘Hunger Games’-y.’”

Since then, the clip has amassed 2.3 million views and more than 18,000 comments, many criticizing Manatee school officials.

Jenkins told BuzzFeed News that watching it was “heartbreaking.” She did not immediately respond to a request for comment from USA TODAY.

“It feels like a punishment for the kids,” she told BuzzFeed News. “That makes me sad. The kids are kids.”

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District officials declined to comment on the video’s unforeseen popularity, but Geri Chaffee, a volunteer at the Rogers-Garden summer program who helped produce the video, said the district made it in part to ensure that non-English speaking parents knew what to expect if they opt to send their child back to school.

With all of the views, and the video available in both English and Spanish, they are hopeful that the message is getting out there.

“The video is for parents who are making the decision,” Chaffee said. “A lot of the questions (district officials) were getting is ‘What is it going to look like?’ This was done as an informational tool if you are sending your kid to schools.”

Manatee is offering families the option of full-time, in-person instruction, full-time remote learning, or a hybrid model where students split their time between on-campus instruction and remote learning from home.

As COVID-19 cases and deaths have soared in Florida, concerns raised by some school officials and teachers stand in stark opposition to a push to reopen schools by Florida Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran, Gov. Ron DeSantis and President Donald Trump.

Nevertheless, the negative response to the viral video may not be mirrored by parents in the district.

The most recent survey of families shows that 74% want their child to return to school for either the hybrid model or full time, and those children will be required to follow the new policies and procedures being developed by the School Board.

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“The people that actually want to send their kids to school, a lot of them don’t have a choice. If you’ve got people that need their income and need their job to put food on the table, how are they not essential (workers),” Chaffee said. “Those are the kids who are most at risk of falling behind. Those are your poor, your language learners, your most at-risk kids.”

Manatee School Board member Scott Hopes said many parents have questioned whether students will actually wear masks and socially-distance themselves during the day, and he said the video will hopefully reassure parents who need their children in school that some of the safety measures can work.

“It wasn’t staged, the kids were there, they were wearing masks,” he said. “People can laugh about it, but that is what that classroom looks like. It’s easy enough to come up with a Saturday Night Live parody, especially if you have no clue what is going on.”

USA Today reporter Joshua Bote contributed to this report.

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