Orange County Schools moves forward with optional mask plan after heated public comment

Under draft plan masks would be optional starting Aug. 2

ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. – The largest school district in Central Florida continued its mask discussion Thursday, this time allowing the public to chime in on a draft policy that would make masks optional for students.

Orange County Public School’s school board reviewed a draft mask policy earlier this month that outlined optional mask usage among students, staff and visitors. The school district said once the revised policy is approved, it would go into effect no later than Aug. 2.

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On Thursday, the board discussed moving forward with that plan and members of the public were able to provide input.

Public comment was halted several times Thursday as community members became heated, at times yelling at board members.

At the same time, these discussions are taking place, the district is working to vaccinate more eligible students ahead of the upcoming school year. Dr. Raul Pino with the Florida Department of Health in Orange County said the county is focusing efforts on young people because there’s still a long way to go for that age group.

Pino said just under 30% of children between 12 and 17 have received a dose and the county’s goal is to reach 50% before they head back to school in August.

“We don’t know in the future how the vaccine is going to be available. Six months from now, is it going to be the same way, is it going to be everywhere,” he said.

There was no vote during Thursday’s meeting. The final vote will happen on July 13, public comment will be allowed during this meeting. Of approved the new policy would be effective Aug. 2.

Most surrounding Central Florida school districts have already approved updated mask policies that make face coverings optional.

“Most of those counties, if not all, are making face coverings optional at this point. If we continue this mandate, this means our students will be the only citizens in our county required to wear face coverings at this time,” OCPS board member Linda Kobert said Thursday.

Superintendent Dr. Barbara Jenkins said she plans to continue to talk to Pino about infection rates.

For more information on the public comment meeting, click here.

About the Author:

Brenda Argueta is a digital journalist who joined in March 2021. She graduated from UCF and returned to Central Florida after working in Colorado.