DELRAY BEACH, Fla. — Starting on Monday, Palm Beach County students must wear facial coverings inside schools and on school district transportation without the ability to opt out.
The mask debate continues to divide our community, even though less than 10% of students were taking advantage of the School District of Palm Beach County's previous opt-out provision.
"This past Monday, my son went to the nurse with an extremely bad headache," said Delray Beach mother Tara Smith. "I was at a lunch and I got a call from the nurse and my heart dropped. I’m like, not the first week, not the first week."
Earlier this month, WPTV introduced you to Smith, who was nervous about the upcoming school year after her daughter caught COVID-19 at the end of last academic year.
"I do not want to witness my son being as sick as my daughter," Smith told WPTV earlier this month. "I mean, her headache was so bad, she could not stop crying."
But now, Smith is living her nightmare all over again.
"I expected it to be bad. I didn’t expect it to be this bad," Smith said in a new interview with WPTV's Stephanie Susskind. "As you know, I was very worried for my kids. I had no idea it would be the first week."
Smith's 10-year-old son is one of the more than 1,000 Palm Beach County public school students to test positive for COVID-19 within the first two weeks of the 2021/22 school year.
"When the parents send their children to us, they are under our care," said Palm Beach County School Board Member Barbara McQuinn. "And right now, we say that care involves masking."
McQuinn supports masking but voted against the new policy on Aug. 18. She knows enforcement will be tough and sees the divide in the community at each school board meeting.
"Stop vilifying us for choosing normalcy for our children," said parent Chelsea Packard at last week's meeting. "School should look normal, remember?"
"What is happening to us, the parents who are deciding not to mask our children, we are told to segregate. We are told to comply. I see something very wrong with this," said parent Angelique Contrares.
While she can't promise a change in COVID-19 case numbers with the new mask requirements, McQuinn said that without the ability to increase social distancing or offer distance learning like last year, a universal facial covering mandate is what the School District of Palm Beach County can do for now.
"Can we provide a direct correlation? No, I don’t think we can," McQuinn said. "But certainly it’s something proactively that we can do."
"I don’t know if there’s an end to this," Smith said. "All I know is in school, it’s not working."
Smith added her son is doing OK, and she hopes the new mask policy will make a difference in keeping students safe.
"It's the biggest demographic in the world, the most susceptible, the most vulnerable that is not protected, and we’re putting them all in the same building," Smith said. "Why not put a mask on? Why not?"