Masks will be optional in Palm Beach County schools next year

At least one South Florida school district will make masks voluntary next year, even as they require them for the rest of this school year.

Palm Beach County’s school district announced the decision Thursday to make masks optional for students and staff starting next school year. The current school year ends June 18, and students and staff must wear masks until then, during next month’s high school graduation ceremonies and during summer school, Superintendent Donald Fennoy wrote in a letter to parents.

The school district won’t require masks next year because COVID-19 vaccines are widely available for adults and children, Palm Beach County’s positivity rate has been on a downward trend and because Gov. Ron DeSantis recommended against facial coverings in schools in the fall, Fennoy said.

Broward County Public Schools haven’t made a decision on masks yet for next year, said spokeswoman Kathy Koch.

“We’re aware of the situation and are continuing to monitor it,” she said, adding that at some point there will be a decision; it just hasn’t happened yet. She did not give a timeline for when the school district may make a decision.

Fennoy, the superintendent in Palm Beach County, said he would “reserve the authority to change course” if health conditions deteriorate and optional mask policies are no longer viable.

“I cannot overstate that the health and safety of our students and staff is the School Board’s top priority, and will always guide our decision-making,” Fennoy wrote.

Other COVID-19 safety measures will remain in place, including enhanced cleaning and sanitization, the use of MERV-13 filters for HVAC systems, and social distancing when possible, he said.

Miami-Dade County and the Miami-Dade school district announced a broad vaccination effort that would include children 12 and up now that the Pfizer vaccine has been approved for children.

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Superintendent Alberto Carvalho said the CDC’s relaxed mask guidelines for fully vaccinated people would be influential to the school district’s decision on masks, and that they would convene with local health officials and make that decision “very soon.”

He reminded the public that there are 18 days of school left this year, and after that the district will launch into an expansive summer school program from the end of June to the end of July.

“The protocols may be different. … There is strong light at the end of the tunnel,” he said during a news conference held at Jackson Senior High School. “We lead the state with vaccinations, the positivity rate in our community for the very first time in months has been below 4% and in days leading to it, around 5%.

“Those are all strong indicators we’re reaching a new level of normalcy,” Carvalho said. “People need to be vaccinated. That is the most effective way of us reaching that new normal that must be established as we go into summer school.”

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