A Leon County judge ruled Friday that school districts in Florida may enforce mask mandates without fear of consequences from the state’s Board of Education.
Palm Beach County Superintendent Mike Burke told WPTV’s Michael Williams that he is pleased with the ruling.
"I think it validates that the governor may have overstepped his authority and that the level of local control that we should enjoy needs to be respected,” Burke told Williams on “To the Point.”
At the beginning of the year, the district had a mask mandate but allowed parents to send in a letter opting their child out of the mandate. The school board then voted to take away the opt out clause and require all students and staff to wear masks due to rising COVID cases in the county. Burke said he respects parents’ rights but believes everyone must do what is right for the health and safety of students.
"When we have a community of students going into confined spaces, you have to respect the rights of everyone in there and when your rights are getting to the point where they are putting someone in potential danger then you have to look at the greater good of the community and do what's right across everyone," Burke said.
Burke commended the school board’s decision and reminded parents that the mandate will be reviewed often.
“I think it's a small sacrifice to pay for their child's education to allow them to be in person with their teacher which we know is best for them," Burke said.
The superintendent was appointed to the position weeks before school started after, Dr. Donald Fennoy resigned. He has been with the district more than 20 years. He said he saw how tough the past 18 months have been on students and says the district is working to bridge the gap.
“Thanks to our referendum we have a mental behavioral health specialist in every school that is checking in with kids,” Burke said. “If they are not feeling right or not feeling safe we have to address that first and once they feel good about being in school then we can catch up on the academics."
Burke said federal relief funds will help students catch up. The district will be able to offer more summer school and hire hundreds of specialized teachers to work with students who fell behind during the pandemic.
As for Burke’s future, he told Williams he plans to apply for the permanent job.
"I've worked in the district for 23 years,” Burke said. “I feel like I've been training for this for a long time and I'm excited to have the opportunity.”
The school board has not announced a schedule for finding a new superintendent.