Two days after both the Hillsborough County School Board and Sarasota County School Board voted to let their mask mandates expire, the Orange County School Board reiterated its plan to keep its students’ faces covered through Oct. 30.
Orange County Superintendent Dr. Barbara Jenkins addressed the topic Thursday, Oct. 7, during a conference with Florida Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran and members of the Florida Board of Education.
The conference was held to discuss Department of Health Emergency Rule 64DER21-15, Protocols for Controlling COVID-19 in School Settings, which states, among other items, that schools must allow a parent or legal guardian to opt their student out of wearing a face covering or mask.
“We believe (the emergency rule) conflicts with Florida Statute 1014.03, which is part of the Parent’s Bill of Rights,” Jenkins said in a prepared statement at the conference. “That legislation does not give the Department of Health the ability to engage in rule-making to implement the statute.
“The School Board also believes the Department of Health exceeded its grant of rule-making authority in Florida Statute 1003.22(3), which states that the Department of Health may adopt rules governing ‘the control of preventable communicable disease,’ she said. “Prohibiting districts from enforcing face-mask usage would not control a preventable communicable disease. Allowing parents to send their student who has been exposed to close contact with a COVID-19-positive individual would not control preventable communicable disease. … Yesterday, the School Board filed a rule challenge to the Emergency Rule with the Division of Administrative Hearings.
“There are not less restrictive means for the School Board to prevent the spread of COVID-19,” Jenkins said. “The state did not approve an innovative learning option allowing full funding for students taking classes at home.Since all students are back in school, the mitigation strategy of social distancing is unavailable. Vaccination is an available mitigation for certain ages but, Florida statute prohibits requiring COVID-19 vaccination for enrollment and attendance.
“Our action is narrowly tailored, because the face mask requirement is in place through Oct. 30,” she said. “We are optimistic that the numbers will continue to improve over the next three weeks so that we can return to our previous strategy, allowing parents to opt out.”
Corcoran and the Board of Education agreed OCPS is out of compliance with the Emergency Rule and thus could face financial penalties.
"Today, the State Board of Education voted to approve the Commissioner’s finding that OCPS is out of compliance with the FDOH Emergency Rule," OCPS officials said through a Facebook post. "We are disappointed in the outcome, but not surprised. ... Based upon the data and with the advice of local health experts, we maintain that the best course of action was to require face masks with medical exemptions. ... At this time, nothing has changed in the school district regarding face masks."
Other Florida districts not in compliance include Alachua, Broward, Duval, Indian River, Leon, Miami-Dade and Palm Beach.