Palm Beach County schools will stop requiring masks outdoors and reopen playgrounds

After receiving complaints that kids were wearing masks in the “brutal heat” outdoors, Palm Beach County public schools no longer will make students cover their faces while they play and exercise outside.

The School Board reached its decision Wednesday after noting how some schools seemed to have inconsistent practices about mask-wearing outside. “It is really brutal outside,” School Board member Karen Brill said Wednesday. “I don’t want children in 90-degree heat running around with masks on their face.”

Representatives for the school systems in Broward and Miami-Dade counties couldn’t be reached for comment about their policies for mask wearing outdoors.

Months ago, the Palm Beach County School Board had removed a mask requirement for students playing outdoors, Schools Superintendent Donald Fennoy said at a meeting Wednesday. A letter from the School Board at the time explained that students wouldn’t need to wear masks outdoors while keeping 6 feet apart. But if students couldn’t social distance, they would wear masks.

But those loosened guidelines do not appear in the school district’s policy guidelines for COVID-19, which carved out mask exemptions only for students with certain medical conditions or hearing impairments. School Board members reiterated their concerns with student safety if they’re being made to wear masks while playing outside in the heat.

Fennoy said the district’s practice for months has been to allow maskless outdoor activity, but Brill said that the official policy needs to be updated to reflect what has been practiced so that school staff, students and parents can look to that policy and avoid confusion.

School officials also raised the issue of disparities in playground openings. “It sounds like some are open and some are not,” School Board member Debra Robinson said Wednesday.

“Playgrounds are not open, it’s my understanding, and several parents are saying, ‘Please open the playgrounds,’” board member Barbara McQuinn said.

“For goodness’ sake, open up the playgrounds and let the kids play the rest of the school year. Let them play outside,” School Board Chair Frank Barbieri said.

Playgrounds will “definitely” open in the summer, Fennoy said at the meeting. He said he had not yet decided if he would open them sooner than that, but said a decision could come later this week.

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