While parents now have the option to opt their children out of the Palm Beach County School District’s mask mandate, most students are still wearing masks while on school property, Central Region Superintendent Valerie Zuloaga-Haines told the Royal Palm Beach Educational Advisory Board on Monday, Nov. 8.
“The board voted for our parents to have the opportunity to opt out their children from wearing masks,” Zuloaga-Haines said. “Today was the first day that parents actually have the option of opting out their students from wearing their masks in school.”
In order for students to opt out from wearing a mask, parents had to submit a note to the school, she said, noting that parents who had already sent a note did not need to do so again.
“I will say that the schools that I visited today, I was wondering what the difference would be between the students and faculty and staff who actually wore their masks or did not, if there would be a significant change,” she said. “At the schools I was at, one student had their mask off. Especially for our younger students at the elementary level, that’s a good thing.”
As of that day, there had been 6,691 cases of COVID-19 in county schools, including 921 employees and 5,768 students.
Zuloaga-Haines said it is encouraging that staff is being diligent and trying to maintain safety for themselves and their health, so they can continue teaching their students, and that parents are being cautious. She also urged that all elementary school students, in particular, continue wearing masks until they can get vaccinated, if they choose to do so.
“I did want to share that [vaccinations] are optional,” Zuloaga-Haines said. “It is not a requirement.”
She added that in the midst of the pandemic crisis, the school district was able to provide all the material necessary for students to complete their coursework, although some did fall behind.
“They had an opportunity to make up all of their work,” Zuloaga-Haines said. “All of their work has been provided to them.”
For students who have fallen behind, the school will supply additional support for them to catch up by the end of the school year,” she said. “That is our plan for all of our students who are still in the process of being able to mitigate some of their learning loss.”
She said that she and the district leadership, as well as the school board, appreciate the principals and teachers who have followed school policy as written.
“It was the decision of our board, and our schools absolutely did enforce what we were supposed to have in force,” Zuloaga-Haines said. “Our principals and teachers had to navigate through that challenge, so we commend them for doing the right thing in following protocols and policies.”