Orange County Public Schools mask policy could be adjusted if needed, officials say

Current policy makes masks optional for 2021-2022 school year

Orange County teachers have been adjusting to educate students during the COVID-19 pandemic. (Orange County Public Schools)

ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. – Orange County Public Schools’ current mask policy, which is set to go into effect Aug. 2, makes masks optional for the upcoming school year but with an increase in COVID-19 cases, Mayor Jerry Demings said as a grandpa with four grandchildren attending OCPS, he’s concerned.

Demings and Orange County Health Officer Dr. Raul Pino with the Florida Department of Health addressed the rising cases Monday during a COVID-19 briefing.

“Dr. Pino, what he said to me was, if school opens with the rate of positivity in our community now, that is going to be a significant problem for the school district,” Demings said.

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Orange County is seeing roughly 1,000 new infections per day with a positivity rate of over 14%. The positivity rate was below 5% less than one month ago, according to county data.

Demings said he spoke with Dr. Barbara Jenkins, the superintendent of Orange County Public Schools, over the weekend. And while the mayor said he cannot speak for the school district, he believes they will likely reevaluate the mask policy.

The school year starts Tuesday, Aug. 10.

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“There’s nothing formal on the agenda for the next board meeting, however, though I’m sure the board will discuss certainly the data, it’s concerning what we’re seeing, and they do have a mechanism within their current policy to work with the superintendent to make adjustments if they need to be made,” Chief Communication Officer for Orange County Public Schools Scott Howat said.

Howat also said the superintendent has already been having discussions with her staff.

He called the situation fluid, as the start of school draws near.

“They’re going to look to Dr. Pino and his staff and his guidance, they’re going to look at any updated CDC guidance that would mandate masking; in the meantime, they’ll have the discussion, and the superintendent will take the direction of the board and work to implement that, but for right now, it is a fluid situation, and we are two weeks out,” said Howat.

The next school board meeting is scheduled for Tuesday.

About the Author:

Lauren Cervantes was born and raised in the Midwest but calls Florida her second home. She joined News 6 in August 2019 as a reporter.