ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. – Orange County Public Schools and the Florida Department of Health in Orange County are tweaking policies to deal with COVID-19 right before school starts.
The Department of Health updated the COVID-19 quarantine protocols Monday, and the district revised its masked policy last Friday, making masks required for students, but they can opt-out with a note from their parents.
“The reason I don’t feel as good as I should, is that I think like everybody else in our community, I thought, we were well past the crisis stage, and on to recovery,” Orange County School Board Chair Teresa Jacobs said.
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The Delta variant changed things. Florida is still struggling to contain the COVID-19 virus and that has a direct impact on school districts.
“We’re going to have challenges,” Jacobs said. “It’s going to be rough. It’s going to be constant changes. None of us like that,” she said.
One way the district is getting information out is with its COVID-19 dashboard located on the district’s website.
It shows the total number of coronavirus cases within the district, active quarantine’s and even breaks down whether they are employees or students.
“I think that has been really, really helpful,” Jacobs said. “It certainly was to me, but it has been to parents, they could literally click on their child’s school and they could see today, where are we at?” she said.
Jacobs said the mask debate has become so polarizing she fears it will spill into the classrooms. She has witnessed heated debates among parents at school board meetings.
“Because of those parents, when I see that tension in this chamber, and I see that tension online, I worry that our children are going to bring those strong beliefs about masks-- good mask, bad--into the classroom,” Jacobs said.
Last Friday, Superintendent Barbara Jenkins announced masks would be required for students, but they can opt-out with a note from their parents.
A mask policy approved in July came with a caveat. The school board will allow the superintendent to implement more restrictive face-covering requirements --if the CDC or other government entities issue such guidance, according to the policy.
“To be perfectly clear the policy that we approved, I would not have voted for it if it did not have that authority, and most of my board members would not have voted for it without that key provision,” Jacobs said.
The bottom line with masks is parents still have the right to choose.
The district is requiring masks for all employees and adults who come on campuses.