PALM BEACH COUNTY, Fla. — With COVID-19 cases surging in Florida and optional face masks for the upcoming school year, many parents are grappling with a tough decision about whether to now chose a virtual option for their child's education.
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"He doesn’t want to be a virtual student. He loved those 19 days he safely got to go back to school and it meant so much to him," said Palm Beach County parent Amanda Weinman.
After spending most of his kindergarten year learning from home, Weinman said all her six-year-old son Brad wants to do is go back to school in-person.
"I actually was OK with it being mask optional, even though it wasn’t my ideal," Weinman said. "I was thinking, hey, this might really not be a threat and not an issue for us at all where my son can still wear a mask to be a little more protected."
But Weinman said with the skyrocketing cases and delta variant spreading rapidly among children, everything has changed.
"It seems like even though they are telling us we all need to be in masks, we're being blocked at every level from being able to protect our children and keep them safe," Weinman said.
Severely immunocompromised herself, the mom of two is now struggling with how her son should attend school.
"My hope is that my community is truly a community," Weinman said. "That in my son's classroom and at his school and his teacher will mostly be wearing masks and that it will be safe for him."
Like many other parents who share her feelings, Weinman is exploring her options if she doesn't feel her family can stay safe.
"I've made a call. I'm looking into Florida Virtual School, Virtual Flex, and I guess Palm Beach County has its own Palm Beach Virtual," Weinman said. So I have calls in to all of them."
West Boca Medical Center pediatrician Dr. Beatriz Ortega-Fernandez said the safest option for all students is to wear a mask.
"Wearing a mask to school is a small sacrifice," Ortega-Fernandez said. "Honestly, everyone in the household, even if those kids are not eligible for vaccination, everybody else in the household who is eligible should go and get their vaccine."
Now the Weinman family just wants clarity before that first bell rings.
"I'm hoping from the bottom up. If we can’t do top down, let’s do bottom up. We can do this. We can band together as a community," Weinman said.
Superintendent Michael Burke of the School District of Palm Beach County said enrollment was down by about 6,000 students last school year. He's expecting to bring back about 1,500 of those students this year, but knows there is some uncertainty.
Florida Virtual School full-time enrollment continues until Aug. 13 for kindergarten through eighth grade. High school enrollment is already closed.
FVS said on its website it's projecting more than 9,000 students for the 2021/22 academic year. For more information about enrollment, click here.
Enrollment remains open for all grade levels through Palm Beach Virtual School, which is part of the School District of Palm Beach County. For more information, click here.