State’s masks rebellion grows to five school districts, as Palm Beach join growing list; Sarasota County could be next

Alachua, Broward, Hillsborough, Miami-Dade and now Palm Beach counties are implementing a mandatory mask policy in defiance of Gov. Ron DeSantis policy on masks for school children as the state experiences a surge in COVID-19 cases.

The Sarasota County school board has scheduled an emergency meeting Friday to discuss its mask policy.

In a meeting that lasted close to Midnight, earlier this week, the Palm Beach County school board voted, 6-1, to require masks for all students except those with documented medical exemptions. The district previously had adopted a mask mandate that allowed parents to opt-out regardless of reason.

“I could not look myself in the mirror any longer and say that I am doing everything I can to make my schools safe,” Karen Brill, vice chair of the board, said.

The new mask policy takes effect on Monday.

The emergency meeting in Palm Beach started at 5 p.m. and went on until almost midnight, filled with hours of public comments and deliberation from the board.

By the end of the meeting, six of the board members voted to adjust the policy. The one vote in opposition was cast by board member Barbara McQuinn.

Of concern is a battle between state and local authorities over how schools operate during a pandemic.

The DeSantis administration says parents must be free to direct the “upbringing, education, and health care” of their students, including refusing for any reason to have their children wear face masks at school.

But school districts are pushing back on those policies.

The Alachua and Broward districts have already been called before the State Board of Education. If found guilty of violating state law, they could face penalties including slashing the pay of superintendents and board members or removing them from their positions entirely.

However, the Biden administration has indicated that it will support school districts with such policies, issuing a memorandum Wednesday directing U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona to “assess all available tools in taking action,” to ensure that “governors and other officials are taking all appropriate steps to prepare for a safe return to school for our nation’s children, including not standing in the way of local leaders making such preparations.”

Biden also instructed Cardona to ensure that governors and other officials providing in-person learning without “compromising their health or the health of their families or communities.”

-This report first appeared on the website of the Florida Phoenix, a nonprofit news organization dedicated to coverage of state government and politics from Tallahassee.

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