School District of Palm Beach County standing firm on mask mandate

Palm Beach County public school students wear face masks in class during the 2021_22 academic year.jpg
Posted at 4:13 PM, Oct 11, 2021
and last updated 2021-10-11 17:11:53-04

PALM BEACH COUNTY, Fla. — The School District of Palm Beach County is standing strong behind its universal mask mandate for students in the face of funding cuts.

The district is still waiting on official communication from the state about a 48-hour deadline to comply with a Florida Department of Health emergency rule which allows a parental opt-out to a school district's mask policy.

Superintendent Mike 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%.

Those metrics indicate a "moderate" level of community transmission and must be maintained for at least four weeks.

For now, without all of those benchmarks being met, the school district's mask mandate will remain in place despite threats from the state.

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.

Those consequences 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.

Two other Florida school districts — Broward and Alachua — have already received that money from the federal government to make up for funding cuts from the Florida Department of Education.

WPTV has reached out to the Florida Department of Education for clarification on the deadline, but has not yet heard back.