PALM BEACH COUNTY, Fla. — It’s a controversial topic and one that many school districts are still weighing: should schools loosen their mask mandates for next school year?
As of Thursday afternoon, a petition on Change.org has more than 2,000 signatures from parents in Palm Beach County who said the school district should give students the option to wear a mask at their desks.
Right now, every school district in our five county area has a mask mandate, but will that change?
"It really goes from like one extreme to the other and some people, it’s like, not a big deal," said parent Sarah Spiccuzo.
A mask mandate in the public school system is a big deal for Spiccuzo.
"My opinion is that you should have a right to choose. I don’t think that it’s fair or right that anybody mandates or makes it a requirement, like, if you don’t wear your mask all day you cannot come here to learn," Spiccuzo said.
Spiccuzo said that because her son is in preschool within the district, he has not been forced to wear a mask in class and she wants it to stay that way for next year.
The School District of Palm Beach County requires students to wear facial coverings at all times unless eating or drinking. And a survey conducted by the county’s Classroom Teachers Association found that nearly 70% of educators who participated want to keep it that way.
"I think it's important for the parents of these students to understand, it’s about everyone," said a local teacher who prefers to remain anonymous.
That teacher said that once vaccines become available for children, her opinion on masks could change.
"I actually am vaccinated and I know a lot of my coworkers are also vaccinated. I do have some coworkers that are not getting vaccinated for different reasons. I am beginning to feel that if students are vaccinated, I might be more comfortable with masks coming off," the teacher said.
"It's literally the definition of suffocation. It’s in our complaint if you want to suffocate yourself slowly, more power to you, and you can do that in this country. But to mandate for all people, it's a violation of our basic human rights," said Melissa Martz, an attorney and parent.
Martz is a petitioner in a lawsuit filed against Palm Beach Bounty for its mask mandate.
"We kind of have been duped into thinking it’s normal and okay to cover the breathing holes of our babies whose brains are developing," Martz said.
In Palm Beach County public schools, students are required to wear masks at all times unless eating or drinking.
Martin County has the same policy but also allows for mask removals during recess or physical education.
St. Lucie County requires masks in schools unless people are eating and drinking, recess, physical education, and when "social distancing can be maintained."
Indian River County students can remove their masks so long as they are distanced six feet or more.
Okeechobee County schools mandate masks at all times, unless students are eating or drinking, but will revisit the policy in June.
"I do not want to send my son to school if he has to wear a mask all day, absolutely not," Spiccuzo said. "My child’s smile lights up my world. I do not want to cover that. I would rather promote a healthy lifestyle making sure he knows how to wash his hands."