Orange, Brevard schools’ mask policies found noncompliant by Florida education commissioner

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Leaders from two Central Florida school districts defended their districts’ decisions to require face masks for students and staff to the Florida State Board of Education on Thursday only to be found in noncompliance with state policy.

“We believed requiring face masks in our schools was the best way to protect students and staff,” Orange County Superintendent Barbara Jenkins said.

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Jenkins said the action was legal, necessary and reasonable to stop the spread of COVID-19 and keep students and staff safe.

“The action was necessary,” Jenkins said. “The district must provide for the continuity of instruction. Required in-person learning is hindered if students are isolated due to infection or quarantined due to close contact exposure to COVID-19.”

READ: Brevard County School Board opts to keep mask mandate for now

All of the school districts that participated in the hearing, including Orange and Brevard, were found noncompliant by the board and now face possible sanctions.

Orange County Public Schools released the following statement after the hearing:

“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. We are disappointed in the determination by Commissioner Corcoran and the State Board of Education, but not surprised. Our positivity rates are declining and we will continue to monitor the situation.”

READ: School leaders say mask requirement has played a big part in drop in COVID-19 cases

Brevard School Board Chair Misty Belford also attended the hearing.

“In essence, we opened our schools trying to follow your rules with catastrophic outcomes for our schools and our communities,” she said. “We had to take some action to avoid conflict with our constitutional and statutory responsibilities to ensure the students and staff.”

The commissioner of education recommended the state board withhold funds in an amount equal to 1/12 of all school board members’ salaries, as well as withholding state funds in an amount equal to any federal grant funds awarded to each of the school districts, which will be given 48 hours to comply.

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Sarah Wilson

Sarah Wilson, WFTV.com

Sarah Wilson joined WFTV Channel 9 in 2018 as a digital producer after working as an award-winning newspaper reporter for nearly a decade in various communities across Central Florida.