ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. – The Orange County Public Schools Medical Advisory Committee met early Thursday to discuss possible changes to COVID-19 policies.
The meeting came hours before Superintendent Barbara Jenkins was scheduled to meet with the Florida Board of Education about the district’s universal mask mandate.
“Today, the State Board of Education voted to approve the Commissioner’s finding that OCPS is out of compliance with the FDOH Emergency Rule. We are disappointed in the outcome, but not surprised,” Orange County Public Schools said in a statement.
They went on to say, “The School Board and Superintendent are always concerned about the health, safety and welfare of our students and staff. Based on rising COVID-19 cases at the start of the school year along with advice from local health officials, we believed the best course of action was to require the use of face masks in schools and allow for medical exemptions... Our positivity rates are declining and we will continue to monitor the situation.”
In a letter on the Department of Education website dated Oct. 4, Commissioner Richard Corcoran wrote to the State Board of Education members, “I find there is probable cause that Orange County Public Schools (OCPS) acted contrary to the law by requiring students to wear a mask or face covering unless certain exceptions apply, such as a medical certification.”
The state has threatened financial penalties against Orange, Brevard and nine other school districts with mask mandates.
During Thursday’s meeting in Orange County, most committee members supported the mask requirement.
“I feel that this committee feels overwhelmingly that the benefits of universal mandatory masks outweigh the potential risks,” Dr. Vincent Hsu said.
The committee also discussed Florida’s revised quarantine policy, which states parents have the right to choose if their child attends school after being exposed to COVID-19 if they’re not showing symptoms.
Jenkins said the district is working within its capacity to limit outbreaks, which includes an expansion of coronavirus testing.
“We do have a large shipment coming to us of home testing kits, which I assume a nurse could use in the school clinic,” Jenkins said.