ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. – Orange County Schools was the only school district in Central Florida to join 9 others, in enacting mask mandates despite the Governor’s executive order banning school districts from doing so. However, after a Leon County judge ruled districts actually can enact masks mandates, Orange County School Board Chairwoman Teresa Jacobs felt relief.
“It’s a great victory,” Jacobs said. “Our board never sought out to be lawbreakers, we did set out to be the best for our kids and do it in a lawful manner.”
Jacobs added, this means the mask mandate for the 209,000 students in Orange County Schools will begin on Monday, with no opt-out option unless a child has an underlying condition proven with a doctor’s note.
“I have no doubt in my mind our children are safer because of this, and we will keep more children in school because of this,” she said.
“Just relief that finally we have someone saying that this is the way it should be, we have always said that the school board should have local jurisdiction and to hear him say it was just relief,” Wendy Doromal, president of the Orange County Classroom Teacher’s Association said.
She said with this judge’s ruling, the students are the winners.
“Today, children won, parents won and the staff won and the community won too,” Doromal said. “We are trying to end the pandemic and you can’t do that if everyone doesn’t pull together and take care of each other and follow the CDC guidelines.”
However, not all were happy with the ruling. Orange County mom Denise Fosher opted out of her three elementary school children from wearing masks at Timber Lakes Elementary.
“Disappointed, I feel like our rights are getting taken away,” Fosher said. “I feel just because it’s going to work for one child doesn’t mean it’s going to work for another. The fact that they can mandate masks for me is a little overwhelming for them to overwrite the parents’ decision and what’s best for their kid.”
Andrew Spar is the president of the Florida Education Association and he believes this ruling will almost immediately lead to other districts enacting mask mandates.
“I think the parents made it clear and so did this judge in this ruling that really there is an obligation of school boards to ensure the overall public health for our students and people who work in our schools,” Spar said. “I know several already have it on the agenda to potentially having more mandates for masks. I hope school districts make other measures as well as we will continue to work with them to make sure we are protecting the learning and keeping kids safe.”
An Osceola County School Board member earlier this week expressed interest in enacting masks mandates. Volusia County has the discussion on the agenda of an emergency meeting scheduled on Tuesday.
Jennifer Jenkins is the Brevard School board member who has been pushing for mask mandates in schools and continues to press the board to discuss mask mandates.
“This issue is not only professional in nature for me as a board member, but as a person as well, I was an educator when this pandemic had struck, my husband is an educator till this day and my daughter started kindergarten.”
Jenkins said she is naively optimistic through this lawsuit.
“The judge ruling over the proceedings was very thorough, very forgiving for both sides, very accommodating to both passionate opinions. Ultimately I’m grateful he went on the side of the law and that this was overstepping the governor’s boundaries.”