INDIAN RIVER COUNTY, Fla. — Face masks will likely be optional for students next school year in Indian River County, officials announced on Friday.
During a live broadcast on Facebook, Superintendent Dr. David Moore said the School District of Indian River County is planning to make masks optional to start the 2021/22 academic year.
"Our intention is to provide a mask optional environment as we open up school next year," Moore said. "At some point, if not at the opening, which is our goal, we will be mask optional as we go into next school year."
Indian River County is the first local school district to announce a mask optional policy for the 2021/22 school year.
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Moore said 86% of Indian River County students are currently in brick-and-mortar schools. He anticipates the current virtual and transitional models related to the COVID-19 pandemic will not be available in August.
"We plan to be back to normal as we prepare for next school year," Moore said.
If your student is currently enrolled in the virtual and transitional models and you want them to return to in-person instruction next school year, you don't have to do anything.
"Your child will be registered," Moore said. "You can reach out to the school counselor who will be able to coordinate the selection of courses. More than likely, that counselor has already done so."
If, however, you want your child to remain in a distance learning option, the Indian River Virtual School, which was available pre-pandemic and offers a "go at your own pace" model, will be an option.
Families who wish to participate in the Indian River Virtual School must register your child by July 1. To learn more, click here.
Moore said he wants parents to be aware of the mask optional policy for the 2021/22 school year so they can decide what's best for their children.
"We need for parents to make a decision knowing that, in order to avoid that transition for your child," Moore said. "Making the right decision, an informed decision, as we plan for next school year is what we want families to do."
Earlier on Friday, dozens of Palm Beach County parents held a protest in front of school district headquarters to rally against the district's COVID-19 policy which requires students to wear masks in school.
Currently, the School District of Palm Beach County mandates facial coverings "inside District buildings, riding on school buses, and walking through open-air hallways during class changes," but not when children are 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."
The school district said leaders will reevaluate the mask policy as we approach the new school year.
"The District is continuing to monitor health conditions and review current safety protocol for any potential changes to facial covering policies for the next school year," a spokesperson said in a written statement.
Some Palm Beach County School Board members said they need to start having those conversations soon.