Orange County school leaders debate COVID-19 policies

No action taken during Thursday’s emergency meeting

During a meeting Thursday, Orange County school leaders debated COVID-19 policies.

ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. – The Orange County school board discussed COVID-19 protocols and data during an emergency meeting on Thursday and a big focus was on masks.

Under the current mask policy, parents can send a signed note to their students and opt out of wearing a mask. Orange County Public Schools school board chair Teresa Jacobs said about 7% of students across the district have opted out of wearing a mask.

Some members called on the board to consider adopting a universal mask policy.

“It just doesn’t seem to make sense that we would not have a universal mask policy to keep everybody safe, as safe as possible,” OCPS school board member Karen Castor Dentel said.

The board discussed the mask policy in light of a recent surge of COVID cases in the community.

“I calculated 23 times as many cases in the first six days of school as we did last year in the first six days of school. Twenty-three times as many positive cases,” Jacobs said.

Other members cautioned adopting a stricter mask policy or recommending a universal mask policy to the superintendent could violate state law.

“We can make the recommendation to universally mask but that is counter to the law, so it’s my understanding that the superintendent just as the board does have a statutory responsibility to maintain the law,” OCPS school board vice-chair Pam Gould said.

Jacobs also questioned the governor’s and state’s legal authority to prohibit mask mandates. She believes it violates parental rights.

“The bill of rights protecting those parents’ ability to have a say in the healthcare decisions of their child has been stripped away by this ruling. I don’t know any other way to put it,” Jacobs said.

The emergency meeting was a work session, so no action was taken.

The board could take up the district’s mask policy, as well as explore possible legal options to challenge the governor’s executive order and state rules during Tuesday’s board meeting. As of Thursday afternoon, those topics are not on the agenda.