Palm Beach County superintendent tells state district 'cannot ignore scientific consensus'

Superintendent Michael Burke speaks at a Palm Beach County School Board meeting on Aug. 25, 2021.jpg
Posted at 5:43 PM, Oct 15, 2021
and last updated 2021-10-15 21:07:30-04

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — The School District of Palm Beach County is pushing back on the state's insistence that the district adheres to the state's rules on making masks optional for students.

After receiving a warning letter from the state Board of Education on Tuesday to comply with Florida law within 48 hours, Superintendent Mike Burke sent a reply letter Thursday that the district maintains its previous position.

"We cannot ignore scientific consensus on these issues, which one must do if taking the position that facial coverings do not prevent the spread of the highly contagious SARS-CoV-2 and its variants or that facial coverings are harmful to children," Burke wrote.

Burke has outlined four criteria the school district wants to meet before they can relax facial covering rules for students. Those criteria include the availability of a COVID-19 vaccine for children ages five to 11, fewer than 50 positive COVID-19 cases per 100,000 people, and a positivity rate below 8%.

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 consequences.

Not complying with the state's face mask rule will bring consequences that include withholding funding equal to monthly school board member salaries and potentially more until the district comes into compliance.

Burke said that's about $27,000 a month in Palm Beach County. He added the school district can take the financial hit and the school board will still get paid.

The state is also threatening to withhold funding equal to any money the School District of Palm Beach County receives from the Biden Administration's Project SAFE grant program.