Students and faculty will begin the year masked up in Palm Beach County public schools after The School District of Palm Beach County announced a shift in policy on facial covering.

In an open letter posted on the district’s website, superintendent Michael Burke said, “I am requiring facial coverings inside schools and on buses for all students attending Palm Beach County District-operated schools, unless the student’s parent/guardian chooses to opt-out of this requirement.”

To opt-out, a parent has to send a signed note telling the child’s first period teacher.

No such option is being given for staff, who will be required to wear a facial covering indoors and on buses.

Burke’s message said this might change 30 days from now when he sees how things are going. The school year starts Tuesday.

Palm Beach now stands with Broward County as far as mask rules. Miami-Dade County Public Schools is still undecided.

Florida COVID update: Record-breaking 23,903 new cases, more people than ever in hospital

A July 30 executive order from Gov. Ron DeSantis threatened school districts with state funds being withheld if they enforced a mask requirement. Which was why, Burke’s message said, the district’s policy on facial coverings, as stated in a video posted to YouTube Friday, was they were “optional and strongly encouraged on campuses.”

But the state, via the Florida Department of Health, said Friday that school districts could mandate masks, but had to give parents the option of opting out. Parents also can apply for vouchers to they feel their child is the victim of what the Florida Board of Education called “COVID-19 harassment” over masks, testing or isolation.

“Parents and guardians, I have heard your passionate pleas on both sides of this debate during School Board meetings. I have also read your messages via email,” Burke’s message said. “I have considered all of your input, however, I must make decisions that safeguard the health and wellbeing of our students and staff.

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“In determining how best to accomplish that, I have consulted with members of the local and national medical community, I have considered the guidance from local pediatricians who are extremely concerned about the health of our children, and I have discussed this critical decision with our School Board Members.”

According to statistics reported by the Centers for Disease Control, Palm Beach County’s seven-day COVID-19 case count has risen 30.9%, hospitalization rate risen 50.33% and the positive test rate is 20.63%. Between the ages of 12 and 18, 28,778 girls and boys in Palm Beach County are vaccinated.

Saturday, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services reported 168 pediatric patients are hospitalized with laboratory-confirmed COVID-19 in Florida.



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