UPDATE: Orange County schools to mandate masks for 60 days

There will be medical exemption for masks

ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. – Orange County Public Schools will mandate masks for students for 60 days. The new policy was decided at a school board meeting on Tuesday and will go into effect on Monday.

The school board plans to discuss the mandate in 30 days to see if the policy needs any adjustments.

Orange County Superintendent Barbara Jenkins said there will be a medical exemption for the masks.

A note from a doctor or physician assistant or a nurse practitioner is required for the medical exemption.

According to the Orange County Public Schools COVID-19 dashboard, Monday saw the highest number of COVID-19 cases ever reported in a single day since the beginning of the pandemic.

The dashboard shows on Monday, 419 new cases were reported including 382 new cases in students, 37 new cases in adults. It shows an additional 104 cases reported as of 2 p.m. Tuesday.

“Today we saw the highest one-day average we have ever seen, the highest number of reported cases,” said Wendy Doromal, president of the Orange County Classroom Teacher’s Association. “That’s three times the previous high. Definitely, we can see that students and employees are not being kept safe.”

Doromal is representing dozens of teachers she says wanted district-wide mask mandate.

Orange County joins eight other school districts that have chosen to enact mask mandates, despite the Governor’s July 30th executive order prohibiting districts from doing so.

Protesters outside the Orange County School Board meeting on Aug. 24, 2021. (WKMG 2021)

Duval County Public Schools making the move Monday night joining Alachua, Broward, Miami-Dade, Hillsborough, Sarasota, Palm Beach and Leon Counties.

“Since yesterday Duval County instituted mandatory mask mandates and now Orange County is certainly the outlier,” Doromal added.

On Tuesday, Rep. Darren Soto (D-Florida) also sent this letter to Orange County Superintendent Barbara Jenkins to do the same.

“It is time to put the health and safety of our children first. We urge you to consider following the lead of other Florida county school districts who have required masks as a safety practice,” the letter read.

This comes days after the U.S Education of Secretary Michael Cardona himself personally called Jenkins offering support and assurances the Department of Education will provide any funding lost through state penalties that have been threatened by the Governor and Florida Education Commissioner.

After the school board meeting started on Tuesday, parents voiced their support or disapproval of changes to the district’s mask policy.

The mother of a first-grader spoke out in support of a mask mandate. Her son was homeschooled last year due to the pandemic.

“Children belong in school. I would like to say that all of you agree with that fact they need to be in school and the best way to keep them in the school is to have them wear masks right now so children don’t get sick so we don’t have to quarantine lots of people it just makes sense to mandate masks so our kids can stay in school,” she said.

Other parents viewed the mask issue as a political tool and believe the decision should be left up to families.

“You are playing a political game and using our children as pawns the mask mandate is a complete overreach of your authority as school board members,” an Orange County student’s mother said.

Scenes from the Orange County School Board meeting on Aug. 24, 2021. (WKMG 2021)