With Orange County Public Schools’ current mask mandate with no opt-out option set to expire Saturday, Oct. 30, Superintendent Dr. Barbara Jenkins said she will review the latest COVID-19 statistics and information before making a decision on whether to reinstate the parent opt-out option.
“As Oct. 30 approaches, I know parents and staff want to know if we will continue our face mask mandate or revert back to required masks with the parent opt-out provision,” she said. “While I must say the numbers look extremely encouraging, I want to review this week’s information before making a final determination. … I plan to announce the face mask direction Thursday.”
Following Jenkins’ remarks at the Oct. 26 Orange County School Board meeting, School Board members voiced their opinions on the mandate.
School Board District 6 member Karen Castor Dentel advocated for keeping the mandate in place with no opt-out option.
“Finally, vaccines are on the horizon for elementary and middle school kids, and likely will be available in a matter of weeks,” she said. “But until that time, masks are the only measure that our unvaccinated children have to protect them in our schools. … We know masks work. … Masks work best when everyone wears one.”
Dentel said although she has received some negative communication regarding the current mandate, the majority of the feedback has been positive.
“The majority of my emails are from grateful parents and teachers,” she said.
Vice Chair Pam Gould said she felt confident those who still want to mask their children would continue to do so if the opt-out option was reinstated.
“Even if this mask policy does expire, I think that people who are uncomfortable and want to follow the recommendations of the CDC would continue to do so and mask up. I am still in support of the original policy.”
Orange County School Board Chair Teresa Jacobs said although she would like to extend the existing mandate for six more weeks, the threat of Gov. Ron DeSantis removing the members of the School Board for violating a state order is a risk she cannot take.
“I don’t care about being removed from office,” Jacobs said. “I do care about having a puppet board, and I think that 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 as belligerent for not backing off at this stage of the game.
“If this board gets removed, and we have another spike, then you have governor’s appointees,” Jacobs said. “And they will not give one flip about what anybody who believes in masks wants. So, is that a risk that is worth taking for the children of Orange County Public Schools?”
Jacobs said at the time the board made masks optional at the beginning of the school year, Orange County was reporting about 160 cases per 100,000. Last week, the county reported 69 cases per 100,000.