School District of Palm Beach County relaxes mask guidelines following marathon school board meeting

Facial coverings now optional for students, staff while outside
Children wear masks during in-person learning
Posted at 4:32 PM, May 20, 2021
and last updated 2021-05-20 18:28:03-04

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — Protests and hours of public comment at Wednesday's Palm Beach County School Board left many parents still fuming.

However, the school district announced Thursday afternoon that facial coverings are now optional for students and staff while outside.

MORE: Children shouldn't wear face masks in school, Florida's governor says

Masks will remain mandatory for students and staff while inside campus buildings or riding on school buses. Also, social distancing is not required for students and staff while outside.

"We've hit the breaking point. It's just unacceptable," parent Sean Sykes said before Thursday's announcement.

Sean Sykes, Palm Beach County parent speaks about school mask mandate
Parent Sean Sykes speaks out against the mask mandate in Palm Beach County schools.

Angry parents demanded their kids be unmasked immediately inside Palm Beach County schools during Wednesday's marathon meeting.

Sykes said he is now pulling his kids from the district.

"We will be virtual homeschooling for at least next year, unfortunately, the private schools we're looking into having a long waitlist," Sykes said.

He joined an anti-mask protest outside district headquarters and was part of several hours of public comment.

But late into the night, the school board ultimately pushed the superintendent to tell principals that students are not to be disciplined for improper mask etiquette.

"I guess it's a small step, but it's still unacceptable when we've waited this long to get the masks removed even outside the school,” Sykes said.

Children can also now unmask when they walk outdoors.

Meagan Bell, Palm Beach County parent
Palm Beach County mother Meagan Bell supports the current mask mandate in schools.

Last week, Dr. Donald Fennoy said the district's mask policy will remain through the end of the school year, but masks will be optional come August.

"I think that's very concerning for our elementary school-aged children who will not have an opportunity to get vaccinated," mother Meagan Bell said.

Bell is on the opposite side of the mask debate.

She's part of a non-partisan group working to educate parents the COVID-19 vaccine is safe for children and wants the mandate to stay.

"Until community spread is very low and all the kids have access to the vaccine and our health experts agree it is safe to remove the masks," Bell said.

Currently, the mask mandate will stay through the end of the school year, which is June 18. It's also in effect through summer school.

The latest guidance from the CDC says masks should still be worn in classrooms because of low vaccination rates among children.

Below is a letter that the school district sent to parents, guardians and staff Thursday regarding masks in schools:

During last night’s School Board meeting important changes regarding the use of facial coverings on District property were made. These changes have been shared with principals and are now in effect.

While facial coverings remain mandatory for students and staff who are inside campus buildings or riding on school buses, the District’s guidelines regarding facial coverings have been further relaxed.

Facial coverings are now optional for students and staff while outside including, but not limited to, playgrounds, athletics, physical education classes, and campus transitions during class changes which involve outdoor hallways or courtyards.

Social distancing is not required for students and staff while outside, however, good judgment should be taken to avoid very close contact to the extent possible.

Teachers are encouraged to include outdoor face mask breaks for students when possible.

These updated guidelines will remain in effect for the remainder of this school year. Facial coverings will also be mandatory during next month’s high school graduation ceremonies.

Thank you for your patience and understanding as the District continues to navigate the challenges presented by the pandemic.