UPDATE: Seminole County schools keep existing mask policy

News 6 will stream meeting live at the top of this story

SEMINOLE COUNTY, Fla. – The Seminole County School Board did not make changes to the mask policy during a special meeting Thursday.

The district has a mandate in place for employees and students unless they have permission from a parent or guardian to opt out of the policy.

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Seminole County Public Schools announced a 30-day mask mandate that began for students on Aug. 10.

Ahead of the meeting Thursday, parents and guardians arrived to speak during public comment either for or against masks in schools.

The school board members heard from medical professionals, including Dr. Adriana Cadilla with Nemours, who explained the impact schools can have on the coronavirus situation within a community.

Schools are a reflection of a community, Cadilla explained, as community cases peak so do cases within students and staff. Cadilla also explained the current Centers for Disease Control Prevention guidelines include universal masking for students and staff due to the highly contagious delta variant.

Recently, the Children’s Hospital Association signed a letter saying the organization’s hospitals are reporting an increased volume of capacity, putting hospitals at “unprecedented threat.”

Cadilla said universal masking is proven to prevent transmission and has no side effects. There are few reasons why someone would be unable to wear a mask, she said.

Seminole County Department of Health Chief Epidemiologist Dr. Kevin Baker presented the latest COVID-19 numbers, saying Florida’s peak positivity rate of 22.9% was Aug. 20 and Florida is seeing an increase in transmission.

In the first three weeks of the school year, there were 1,149 students who tested positive compared to last school year with 29 overall cases, Baker said.

Approximately, 17% of Seminole County students have opted out of the mask mandate.

Board members agreed to hear more than the allotted 30 minutes of public comment. The crowd at the meeting became unsettled at times, applauding and cheering for some commenters. Seminole County deputies were present and at one point escorted a member of the public out.

The first public commenter was the mother of a Winter Springs High School senior. She said masks don’t impact her ability to learn.

“This is absolutely ridiculous because we’re putting children’s safety at risk,” she said. “We have an obligation to protect our children.”

The mother of a child with autism said her son requires facial clues to learn and implied masks “torture” his sensory issues. She asked the board not to impose a mask mandate and ended her comment to the sound of applause.

Several Central Florida school districts have been reconsidering mask policies following a judge’s ruling on Gov. Ron DeSantis’ executive order banning mandates, saying the governor overstepped his authority and school districts can legally require students to wear masks to prevent the spread of the virus.

Some members of the Seminole County school board, including vice chair Amy Pennock, said they want to let the case against the governor’s executive order play out court before making any changes to the district’s mask policy.

“Let this play out in the judiciary system. Let us focus on education. Let parents choose what’s right for their family and their community and when it’s all said and done then we can revisit the mask policy, though I don’t expect us to have this discussion until that’s all done,” Pennock said.

The district’s current mask policy expires next week. The superintendent could choose to extend it.

About the Author:

Brenda Argueta is a digital journalist who joined ClickOrlando.com in March 2021. She graduated from UCF and returned to Central Florida after working in Colorado.