School District of Palm Beach County moves up date for optional masks after judge's ruling

Judge rules that governor within his authority to impose parental choice
Children wear masks on first day of school at Sessums Elementary School in Riverview, Fla., Aug. 10, 2021
Posted at 5:04 PM, Nov 06, 2021
and last updated 2021-11-07 11:44:33-05

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — The School District of Palm Beach County's universal and sweeping mask mandate for students will be scaled back Monday, with parents once again having the ability to opt their child out of wearing a facial covering in school.

The move is happening a week earlier than planned after a judge dismissed a challenge to the ban on Florida school mask mandates from several school districts.

Administrative Judge Brian A. Newman rejected the case from school officials in Miami-Dade, Leon, Duval, Orange, Broward and Alachua counties, finding that the administration of Gov. Ron DeSantis was within its authority to impose the rule.

Last month, the state began deducting an amount equal to a month's pay from school board members in counties that defied the mask mandate ban. It also slashed overall funding to Alachua and Broward counties to offset federal aid packages meant to blunt the state’s sanctions on mask requirements.

The U.S. Department of Education has filed its own request with an administrative judge at the federal level to block Florida from withholding funding from Alachua and Broward.

The school districts on Friday filed a notice to appeal Newman's ruling.

Palm Beach County Superintendent Mike Burke had told school board members it was his "full intent" to reinstate the parental opt-out starting on Nov. 15, but it will now begin this Monday.

"Fortunately, local health conditions have improved dramatically in recent weeks and the risk of virus transmission is far less than it was back in mid-August when the parent opt-out was rescinded," a statement from the School District of Palm Beach County read. "Palm Beach County’s positivity rate has fallen from 17.9% as of Aug. 18, 2021, to 2.9% as of yesterday. Over this same period, the number of positive cases per 100,000 over a seven-day average dropped from 622.9 to 53.9."