The Palm Beach school district has joined the state’s three largest districts in requiring students to wear facial coverings, and defying Gov. Ron DeSantis’ attempt to block school mask mandates.
Students returned to Palm Beach County schools Aug. 10 with a parental opt-out policy that allowed more than 10,000 to go maskless. The board reversed course during a late-night meeting Wednesday that ended with a 6-1 vote.
DeSantis signed an executive order last month barring school districts from mask mandates, and giving the power to the parents to decide whether to mask their children.
Palm Beach joins Miami-Dade, Hillsborough, Broward and Alachua counties in requiring face masks.
Statewide, Florida reported 23,335 new Covid-19 infections for Tuesday, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services dashboard reported 17,096 hospitalizations of COVID-19 patients.
DeSantis, a Republican, also is in an escalating power struggle with the Democratic White House. After President Joe Biden ordered possible legal action Wednesday, the U.S. Education Department raised the possibility of using its civil rights arm against Florida and other Republican-led states that have blocked public health measures meant to protect students.
As more large school districts defy Florida's ban on strict mask mandates, worries that rapidly spreading infections could force them to close classrooms are no longer theoretical: Thousands of schoolchildren are already being sent home, only days after their school year began.
Children — particularly those too young to get vaccinated against COVID-19 — are “really good” at transmitting the coronavirus, said Dr. J. Stacey Klutts, a special assistant to the national director of pathology and lab medicine for the entire Veterans Affairs system.
Klutts said the highly contagious delta variant makes it absolutely necessary to wear masks indoors and avoid large group gatherings, so if unprotected students sit for hours in classrooms every day, it could rapidly spread infection in the community at large.
“It’s terrifying. I’m afraid that we’re going to have a lot of really sick kids in addition to the spread which is going to be a lot of sick adults,” Klutts said.