Orange County Public Schools to reach mask mandate decision by Thursday

Orange County Public Schools Superintendent Barbara Jenkins says she plans to give word on whether the district's masking mandate will be extended by the end of the day on Thursday.

The district's current mask mandate is set to expire on Saturday, Oct. 30, and the school board left the decision on whether or not to extend the mandate entirely up to the discretion of Jenkins. During the board's regular meeting on Tuesday, Jenkins said she's waiting to hear a county-wide update on COVID-19 Wednesday before making her decision.

Several school board members seemed to want an extension of the coronavirus mask mandate, coupled with an option to opt out with a doctor's note. However, they feared retribution from Gov. Ron DeSantis, who has both threatened district funding and removed school board members in other districts as part of his overall opposition to masking requirements.

"It’s not ourselves being removed, but who would come and be appointed in our place by the governor, would have effects that we can’t even predict right now that go beyond the mask controversy and others,” worried board member Karen Castor Dentel.

Chairwoman Teresa Jacobs agreed.

"I think every person that cares about having a mask mandate in place and wants to extend it needs to be concerned about what happens if this board gets removed because we are seen to be belligerent for not backing off at this stage of the game," she said.

Vice-chair Pam Gould fell on the side of ending the mask mandate, citing the dropping numbers of infections in the county.

Lora Vail, of the parent's group Mask Up OCPS, encouraged the district to extend the mask mandates. Her group rallied at the meeting and earlier in the week for continued use of mandates until children can be vaccinated against the virus.

"One statistic has not changed, which is that 100% of children under the age of 12 are not vaccinated," she wrote in a statement. "We are depending on you to give us until the end of the semester to allow us time to get our children fully vaccinated. Please don’t take away their only protection before then."

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