PALM BEACH COUNTY, Fla. — An online petition is now collecting hundreds of signatures to keep face masks in Palm Beach County schools.
Parent Meagan Bell, the organizer of the petition, said she's aiming to gather 2,000 signatures and present it at next week's Palm Beach County School Board meeting.
"To ensure the safety of students, teachers and staff, masks should continue to be mandated for all who step on Palm Beach County school campuses until community spread of COVID is extremely low," the petition reads. "Since all students will be required to attend class in person in the fall, social distancing will not be possible and masks will be even more essential to keep COVID from spreading in schools and in our community at large."
You can see the petition by clicking here.
Bell launched the effort after she saw a petition to remove masks from Palm Beach County schools circulating online and quickly gaining momentum. Bell said she wants to make sure the other side is heard too.
"We’re just very concerned with the fact that there’s going to be no distance learning in the fall, and classrooms are going to be likely at capacity. So the social distancing will likely not be an option," Bell said.
Bell is encouraging parents to call and email school board members and speak up at next week's school board meeting on May 19.
"We’re not saying, oh, we want everyone to wear masks forever. But just to tie it to a scientifically based metric, as opposed to a feeling like, I don’t want to wear a mask," Bell said. "I just think it's important that we have any decisions based on masking be tied on metrics as opposed to emotions."
The petition has collected more than 1,700 signatures so far.
Bell said she’s one of the people who fought for the county-wide mask mandate. She’s now leading another one and taking names.
”You think we're getting better. But we're not out of the woods yet. And masks are just a really essential tool,” Bell said. “We’re just very concerned with the fact that there’s going to be no distance learning in the fall, and classrooms are going to be likely at capacity. So the social distancing will likely not be an option.”
Bell's overall goal is for a “flexible” mask policy.
”They can always roll it back as the vaccination rates go up and the positivity rates go down,” Bell said.
Parents like Jessie Melton plan to address school board members next week, but for different reasons.
”We grossly disagree on what freedom is and what our country stands for and how to handle a situation like what we’ve been going through the last year. There are alternative ways of handling it without hurting our children and without encroaching on people’s liberties.,” Melton said.
While parents like Rachel Eade said it should be a parental choice.
”We elected the school board to protect our children and right now they're abusing our children,” said Eade. ”We're calling on the school board to make a metric based decision.”
Last week, a group called "Unmask Palm Beach County Kids" protested at the School District of Palm Beach County's headquarters against the district's mandate for students to wear masks in school.
"We just want masks optional," said Julie Damsker, the organizer of Friday's rally. "You want to wear you mask, wear your mask. But my kids are not doing well with one, and it’s my choice. It’s my child."
Currently, the School District of Palm Beach County requires all students to wear facial coverings "inside District buildings, riding on school buses, and walking through open-air hallways during class changes," but not when eating and drinking while seated.
In addition, "students in grades K-12 are not required to wear facial coverings during outdoor physical education classes if maintaining social distancing of at least six feet or more is possible."
SPECIAL COVERAGE: State Of Education
School districts in Palm Beach, St. Lucie, and Okeechobee counties have not announced any changes to their face mask policies, but said they're continuing to monitor the latest with the COVID-19 pandemic as the new school year approaches.
Officials with the School District of Indian River County are planning to make masks optional for students next school year.
Leaders in the Martin County School District could discuss potential changes to their face mask policy during an emergency meeting on Wednesday.
To learn more about the Remove Mask Mandate for Students in Palm Beach County School District petition, click here.