Palm Beach County Schools will adopt a mask mandate with an opt-out option for the upcoming school year, District Superintendent Michael Burke announced Saturday.
The district joins other large Florida school districts like Duval and Hillsborough in the opt-out mask policy. Burke will revisit the masking requirement every 30 days, he said in a statement.
Burke said in a statement that the new policy mandates facial coverings inside schools and on buses for all students unless the student’s parent or guardian chooses to opt out. Parents must send a signed note informing the child’s first-period teacher of this decision to opt out.
“As you may be aware, the COVID-19 infection rate in Palm Beach County has been fluid, with a rapid rise in confirmed cases and hospitalizations over the past few days,” Burke said in a statement.
The district will also require all staff members and visitors to wear a facial covering indoors and on district transportation with no option of opting out.
The update comes after Burke announced on Wednesday that facial coverings for students and staff would be strongly encouraged but not mandatory in the district. That decision, Burke said, was based on the Governor’s Executive Order prohibiting school districts from enforcing mask mandates.
The changes were made following the two major guidelines the Florida Board of Education and the Florida Department of Health released Friday.
On Friday, Surgeon General Scott Rivkees signed a rule requiring schools to let parents or guardians “opt-out the student from wearing a face-covering or mask,” along with rules for COVID-19 symptoms, positives and exposures.
That same day, the State Board of Education released a proposed emergency rule after Gov. Ron DeSantis ordered a prohibition on mask mandates in schools last week. DeSantis is facing pushback from parents of children with disabilities, who are suing over the required opt-out option.
“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. I have considered all of your input; however, I must make decisions that safeguard the health and well-being of our students and staff,” Burke continues in his statement.
“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.”