Palm Beach is a blue county in an increasingly red Florida. In 2020, they chose Joe Biden over Donald Trump 56-43, and in 2016 they picked Hillary Clinton 56-41.
So it’s surprising that Palm Beach County is involved in such a passionate fight regarding the masking of children in schools.
In most blue areas, where masking has long become a virtue signal instead of a safety measure, kids are masked as a matter of course. In New York City, children must mask in school even while outdoors and even while socially distanced. There are no protests about this, no contentious public meetings. The masked side has clearly won and those who don’t want to needlessly mask their children have few options.
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New York State has a blanket mask mandate for schools, no school districts can opt out, no private schools can make a different choice. But in Palm Beach, the parents are fighting and they are fighting hard.
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The school board meetings have become legendary affairs where emotional but very well-spoken parents bring evidence, show examples of other countries which have dropped child masking, and try to engage with a school board that is openly ignoring the will of the people.
One of the more outspoken pro-mask members of the school board, Alexandria Ayala, was photographed recently partying maskless in a large crowd at the swanky Breakers Palm Beach. Outrage ensued. Ayala took to Twitter to argue she still believes in masking children at school. “Vaccinated adults around other vaccinated people can go maskless. But until students are vaxxed, they need to stay masked.”
Of course, all data shows unvaccinated kids have an even lower risk of a poor COVID-19 outcome than vaccinated adults. It’s this exact rejection of the data that has led people like Ayala to turn masking into a political statement even though they themselves can’t maintain it.
There are no off-ramps for these masking rules. No end date, no metric. It’s an ideology and no facts alter the rules.
Two weeks ago, a group called The Florida Civil Rights Coalition “filed a lawsuit against the School Board of Palm Beach County, its Superintendent Michael Burke, and Board Chair Frank Barbieri Jr., on behalf of multiple parents and students in the Palm Beach County School District seeking declaratory and permanent injunctive relief against the school board’s unlawful mask mandate.”
Parents have had enough. There are no off-ramps for these masking rules. No end date, no metric. It’s an ideology and no facts alter the rules.
It’s not just Palm Beach County either. These lawsuits are happening all over the country. With names like “Let Them Breathe” in California and “Unmask our kids” in Connecticut, parents are organizing. And suing.
Several groups of parents in New York are suing Gov. Kathy Hochul and the state Department of Health. Hochul recently made news when New York returned to a policy – abandoned in spring – that requires children as young as 2 in day care settings to be masked. Across the river, New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy followed her lead and implemented the same. The United States is the only western country to mask children as young as 2.
The lawsuits are a last resort to return normalcy to children who have been stripped of it for nearly 19 months.
Parents don’t want to sue their state governments. They don’t want to fight their school boards. They want what kids in England, Scotland, Wales, Ireland, Sweden, Holland, Iceland, Denmark and other countries have realized long ago: kids don’t need to be masked in school and it’s a hindrance to do so.
If so many American schools won’t follow the science, parents hope the courts will make them.
Karol Markowicz is a columnist at the New York Post. She has also written for Time, USA Today, The Observer, Heat Street, Federalist, Daily Beast and elsewhere. Follow her on Twitter @Karol.