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Masks now optional at Palm Beach County public schools

'Our hands were tied,' school board member Alexandria Ayala says
Palm Beach County students wear face masks in school during the 2021_22 academic year.jpg
Posted at 10:59 AM, Nov 08, 2021

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — Students and staff members in Palm Beach County public schools now have the option to wear masks in schools starting Monday. It comes after a judge ruled that Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis was within his authority to impose parental choice.

SPECIAL COVERAGE: State of Education

Angelique Contreras has been advocating for parental choice when it comes to students wearing facial coverings in schools.

Now that the School District of Palm Beach County has dropped the mask mandate, Contreras is relieved.

"I think that being a parent is very important. We live in a great nation where we have the rights endowed to us to be able to choose our children’s health care needs, as well as our own," Contreras said. "I felt like the school board was infringing on those rights. They were taking away those individual rights from us to decide what's best for our own kids."

Angelique Contreras, mother speaks about masks being optional in schools
Angelique Contreras was pleased that masks will now be optional at schools.

"It's my kid, my call, my decision. We knew the risks, we're well aware of them. We've been going through this for the past one and half years. We're over it," said a parent named Ali.

On Oct. 7, the Florida Board of Education gave Palm Beach County and seven other public school districts throughout the state 48 hours to comply with the state's face mask rules and offer a parental opt-out or face the financial consequences.

The school district defied that threat.

A spokeswoman for the Florida Department of Education confirmed to WPTV that because the school district violated the state's emergency rule regarding facial coverings for students, $27,527 in state funding was withheld from the School District of Palm Beach County on Oct. 26 as punishment.

However, because the school district is now back in compliance, those funds will be given back to the district, the spokeswoman said.

According to their health metrics, leaders were going to go back to the opt-out option on Nov. 15. But on Friday morning, a judge ruled DeSantis had the authority to issue the ban on mask mandates.

Alexandria Ayala, Palm Beach County school board member speaks about optional masks
School board member Alexandria Ayala says the district had no choice but to allow masks to be optional in schools.

"Our hands were tied. The state's decision at this time and their desires are in conflict with what I believe is best for our district. But that's where we've been in this pandemic," said Alexandria Ayala, school board member for District 2. "I am just grateful that we were able to keep the case numbers down, and keep health conditions good enough with the initial mask requirement to get to this point as a district."

For Sury De Leon, a parent of three in three different grade levels in the school district, she has mixed feelings about masks being optional again.

Sury De Leon, parent speaks on optional masks in schools
Sury De Leon says she mixed feelings about masks being optional.

"I have a son who is in a special school, and I don't think he should be wearing a mask. Because it's really hard for kids who have autism to keep the mask on. But my daughter is in elementary school, and I believe she should keep it on," De Leon said. "I believe in high school they should have the option because they can keep their distance and keep putting hand sanitizer on and that kind of stuff."

School district leaders still strongly encourage students and staff members to wear facial coverings.

Parents are asked to send a signed note with their child about opting out of the mandate to their first-period teacher.