ORLANDO, Fla. – Another Florida school district has implemented a mask mandate for students and staff members.
Officials from Orange County Public Schools, which covers much of the Orlando metropolitan area, made the decision in a Tuesday night meeting. The board decided that the policy will go into effect next week, WFTV reported. Medical exemptions will be honored, however.
The mandate will begin Monday and is scheduled to expire Oct. 30, the television station reported.
Orange County joins eight other districts that require masks, the Sun-Sentinel reported. That includes the Alachua, Broward, Duval, Hillsborough, Leon, Miami-Dade, Palm Beach and Sarasota districts.
Florida’s state Board of Education has barred schools from requiring students to wear masks, the newspaper reported. The board said parents should make the decision about whether their children should wear masks and must have the option to opt-out.
Gov. Ron DeSantis’ executive order, signed July 30, forbade school districts from requiring masks without allowing parents the choice to opt-out, the Miami Herald reported.
“It is important to remember that this issue is about ensuring local school board members, elected politicians, follow the law,” Florida Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran said in a statement Friday. “We cannot have government officials pick and choose what laws they want to follow. This is simply unacceptable behavior.”
Broward County officials, who had until Tuesday to rescind the district’s mask mandate, said it disputed the state’s contention in a response to the Board of Education.
“The School Board disputes that a parent or legal guardian has a fundamental and unlimited right to insist that his or her minor child not be required to wear a face-covering during a pandemic involving a highly contagious virus,” Broward board members wrote, according to the Sun-Sentinel. “If such a fundamental and unlimited right did exist, it would necessarily conflict with the right of a parent or legal guardian of a minor child — especially an immunocompromised child — to attend school in an environment made safer by a requirement that those individuals the child will come in contact with will wear a face-covering, thereby taking a measure that the Department of Health has acknowledged mitigates against the spread of that virus.”
The state has threatened to withhold money equal to school board salaries to those districts not in compliance with the state order.
“(Doctors are) begging us to get these numbers down just so we can have a normal school year,” Orange County Public Schools board member Angie Gallo said during Tuesday’s meeting, according to WFTV.
Chairwoman Teresa Jacobs said that because the district planned to join Broward County schools and challenge DeSantis’ anti-mask mandate rule as illegitimate, the district would not be breaking any state laws, the television station reported.
“There is no other motivation for me as a school board member, other than to keep our children and our employees safe,” Jacobs said, according to WFTV. “This is not about my salary.”
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