OKEECHOBEE, Fla. — Starting on Thursday, face masks will be optional inside Okeechobee County schools.
School board members approved changes to the district's COVID-19 policy on Tuesday night.
Under the new guidelines, "face masks are recommended but not required and temperature checks are no longer needed" the Okeechobee County School District posted on Facebook.
"The number of exclusions and positive cases that we've been seeing here in Okeechobee have tapered quite a bit," said Superintendent Ken Kenworthy. "The turning point, I think, was things getting better. More people being vaccinated."
Currently, the school district requires students and staff members to wear facial coverings inside classrooms and school buildings, on school buses, and outside if social distancing is not possible.
The only exceptions are during physical education, while eating and drinking in the cafeteria, or if students have medical issues or certain disabilities that make them exempt from wearing a mask.
"All of our other mitigation strategies will continue to be in play," Kenworthy said. "We will continue to sanitize desks. We will make sure hand sanitizers are available. And where possible, we will continue to socially distance."
Kenworthy went on to call face masks a "nuisance" and "barrier" to in-classroom instruction.
"In building that relationship with a child, we hope to reestablish that," Kenworthy said.
SPECIAL COVERAGE: State Of Education
Officials with the School District of Indian River County announced last week they're planning to make masks optional for students next school year.
Leaders in the Martin County School District are expected to discuss changes to their face mask policy during an emergency meeting on Wednesday.
Palm Beach and St. Lucie County school districts 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.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis on Tuesday said children should not be required to wear face masks in school.
"These kids do not need to be wearing these masks, OK? I'm sorry, they don't," DeSantis said during a news conference in Jacksonville. "We need to be able to let them be kids and let them act normally. And that's what should be the case in the fall throughout the school year."
WATCH GOVERNOR'S COMMENTS:
The governor, however, stopped short of issuing any mandates or executive orders of his own related to facial coverings in schools.