PALM BEACH COUNTY, Fla. — The Palm Beach County School Board has agreed to reopen school playgrounds and allow kids to take their masks off while playing outdoors.
But students still need to mask up inside classrooms, which has many parents planning to protest.
Meredith Charley and her 5-year-old daughter Amelia spent Thursday counting and learning. Amelia has been at home since the pandemic began.
"She is highly sensitive particularly in her mouth area. So wearing a mask, to say it's challenging, is an understatement," Charley said.
Amelia is autistic and has speech apraxia.
"She needs to be able to see the other person's mouth, and for her to master her own motor movements in her own mouth, a mask would be very restrictive in doing that," Charley said.
So Meredith has been trying to teach Amelia herself at home because the School District of Palm Beach County's COVID-19 policy still requires students to wear a mask on campus.
"The need to be optional honestly," Charley said.
But on Wednesday, the school board agreed to reopen playgrounds and allow masks to be optional while outdoors. The teacher's union said it's a step in the right direction.
"We're turning the lights of normalcy back on gradually and incrementally versus just flipping a switch and things were normal because that would be less safe," said Justin Katz, president of the Palm Beach County Classroom Teachers Association.
Katz said masks should be mandatory, at least through the remainder of the year.
"For next year, during the summer and upcoming meetings, they can continue to have discussions about what next year looks like," Katz said.
But many parents plan to protest against the mask policy outside school district headquarters on Friday morning at 8:30 a.m.
Meredith said special needs students are already at a disadvantage and fears her daughter will fall even further behind.
"I think we're at a point now where the masks need to be optional, especially for my daughter who can't wear a mask," Charley said.
The school board has not set a timeline when playgrounds will reopen.