‘Keep every kid safe.’ Manatee County students, staff start the 2022-23 school year.

·4 min read

On Wednesday, the School District of Manatee County welcomed back over 52,000 students across 50 public schools, 14 charter schools and one technical college.

The first day of school can feel like the start of a new journey, but students are in good company. Several new teachers and administrators also are excited to jump start the 2022-23 school year.

King Middle School in Bradenton welcomed 300 incoming sixth graders, 20 new staff members and a new principal.

“I’m not alone,” King Middle’s new Principal Michael Mullen said. “It’s nice that I get to share the first day of school with so many kids.”

Sixth grader Dominic Pineda said he felt a little nervous about his first day of middle school but was excited that he’s attending King, the school that his siblings attended before him and many of his cousins currently attend.

“I love King, my whole family comes here,” Dominic’s father Alexis Pineda, 32, said. “They’re a good school, the teachers communicate and they let you know what’s happening with your child. I like to be involved and they show that they care about the kids.”

King Middle School students walk to class on the first day of school.
King Middle School students walk to class on the first day of school.

Mullen said he and his children were educated in Manatee County schools and he always felt principals and administrators kept them safe. He plans to do the same in his new role.

“I’m going to look after every one of these kids like it’s my kid,” Mullen said. “The goal this school year is to keep every kid safe, give them a high level of education and support their family.”

Several national concerns like school safety, COVID protocols and the teacher shortage are in the front of the minds of parents and faculty.

While Alexis Pineda could not walk his son to class on his first day because of safety rules, he hugged him, wished him luck and gave him advice just in case he found himself in a class with more students.

“I told him not to be afraid to raise his hand if he doesn’t understand,” Pineda said. ”There is a teacher shortage so, it’s a lot harder to teach with more students and even louder classrooms.”

King Middle School students walk to class on the first day of school.
King Middle School students walk to class on the first day of school.

King is one of the schools in the district that is still understaffed in some areas and had to have a few teachers combine classes while they continue hiring.

“We don’t want to hire just anybody. It has to be someone passionate, energetic and loves kids,” Mullen said.

This school year should more resemble how schools looked pre-COVID, which is something Superintendent Cynthia Saunders is looking forward to, along with some local parents.

“COVID is a thing of the past and we’re going to have a normal school year,” Saunders said. “We know it still lingers, but all the activities and parent involvement is back to the way it used to be before COVID.”

Pineda is also happy Manatee County is moving away from COVID restrictions in schools. He looks forward to his son and other students experiencing a more traditional school year.

“Online learning was new, but it was tougher being at home with distractions,” he said. “Being at school is more hands-on and it’s better to have someone teaching you, I’m glad they’re back.”

Saunders did say some COVID safety precautions are still in play, but as the year goes on it’s something they’ll continue to navigate through as cases linger.

New King Middle School Principal Michael Mullen stands for photos with Superintendent Cynthia Saunders on the first day of school.
New King Middle School Principal Michael Mullen stands for photos with Superintendent Cynthia Saunders on the first day of school.

Back to school safety tips for drivers

  • Students heading back to class means increased traffic on city roads. Please allow extra travel time and watch for other cars, pedestrians, children, bicyclists, and school buses.

  • Buckle up! Make sure all passengers and drivers in a car, especially children, are buckled up. In Florida, passengers under 18 years of age must wear a seatbelt or be restrained in a child car seat.

  • Pay attention to crossing guards and obey school zones. All school zones in the City of Sarasota are 15 miles per hour. Watch for students and parents who will be walking to and from school.

  • It is against the law to use a wireless communications device in a handheld manner in any active school zone.

  • Cars must stop for all school buses when the side stop sign is out and red lights are flashing, even if the bus is on the opposite side of the street. The only exception is a raised median, more than four feet wide, that divides the street. (A graphic is attached to show this.)

  • Fines for speeding in a school zone and passing a school bus can range from $156 to $456. Sarasota Police officers encourage drivers to slow down and allow plenty of time to get to and from their destination safely.

— City of Sarasota