ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. – Outside of the Orange County Public School headquarters, pressure is mounting for the school board to enact mask mandates with no option of opting out as parents, teachers and educators call for a mask mandate.
This comes as now seven Florida school districts have enacted district-wide mask mandates including Alachua, Broward, Hillsborough, Sarasota, Palm Beach, Miami-Dade and now Leon County.
“We expect the Orange County School Board to take up the question about masks,” said Andrew Spar, President of the Florida Education Association representing teachers across the state. “We hope the superintendent and school board members here in Orange County will join with the other seven districts representing over 40% of the students in the State of Florida and mandate masks as on measure to keep students safe.”
The pressure not only coming from teachers but parents too. Orange County mom Lora Vail was outside of headquarters Monday concerned for her 6-year-old son.
“My son is 6 years old. He is not old enough to receive a vaccine, so a mask is his only protection in school against catching the virus,” Vail said. “I feel it’s a disgrace that Orange County has not joined seven counties in the state and that’s why I’m here today.”
On Monday however, Gov. Ron DeSantis did not back down on giving parents the decision to choose and not the districts.
“We should be having parents making these decisions,” DeSantis said when asked about the mask mandates. “If a kid was infected over the summer, that kid doesn’t need to be in a mask no matter what you think of a mask.”
DeSantis and the Florida Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran last week in a statement to Alachua and Broward Counties planned to follow through with their threat of taking away funding from school districts that defy the executive order.
“It is important to remember that this issue is about ensuring local school board members, elected politicians, follow the law. These public officials have sworn an oath to uphold the Constitution of the United States and the Constitution of the State of Florida. We cannot have government officials pick and choose what laws they want to follow,” Corcoran said. “These are the initial consequences to their intentional refusal to follow state law and state rule to purposefully and willingly violate the rights of parents. This is simply unacceptable behavior.”
However, Friday the federal government stepped in. U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel A. Cardona, sending a letter showing his concern for taking the authority away from local school districts, ensuring those districts that the Department of Education will continue to fund the districts, despite any penalties from the State of Florida.
“The Department stands with these dedicated educators who are working to safely reopen schools and maintain safe in-person instruction,” the letter wrote from U.S. Secretary Cardona.
Moreover, a spokesperson for Secretary Cardona said he personally extended those same assurances in a phone call to Superintendent Barbara Jenkins late Friday.
On Tuesday, we will see if the mounting pressure will lead Orange County Public Schools to make any changes at their regularly scheduled school board meeting Tuesday afternoon.