Group wants Orange County schools to extend mask mandate, rally planned for Monday

ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. — On Monday, a group will be asking the Orange County School Board to renew its policy to mask up students.

Right now, the only students allowed to bypass the mask mandate in Orange County schools are those with medical exemptions.

The policy expires on Saturday.

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The rally is called “Don’t Stop Now,” and participants will be asking district leaders to renew its push for masks in schools.

By extending the mask mandate, they hope to give younger kids the opportunity to get vaccinated before loosening restrictions.

Jenifer Hills, who is the parent of a second-grader in the Orange County School District, said while she’s optimistic COVID-19 positivity rates are trending down, she doesn’t feel comfortable with the district letting the mask mandate expire.

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“How well we’re doing and the COVID numbers are in large part due to the masks. It’s our first line of defense against the virus,” Hills said. “If we take away their best protection, which is the masks at this moment, we’re leaving them extremely vulnerable.”

Hills wants the district to extend the mandate for at least another six weeks.

The hope is this will give kids ages 5-11 the opportunity to get vaccinated over the winter break.

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While the FDA’s initial review of the Pfizer vaccine has been completed, experts estimate the process won’t be done until at least early November.

This comes as Orange County is fighting alongside five other districts to overrule the state’s order allowing parental choice for who wears masks and quarantine rules for asymptomatic kids returning to class after exposure.

While that ruling won’t come for two more weeks, the state argues pandemic learning is impacting academic success.

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“The students that came to school, and learned in person, in front of their teachers, learning loss was half of what it was for the distance learning students,” said Jacob Oliva of the Florida Department of Education.

The rally will be held at 10:30 a.m. on Monday, outside the Ronald Blocker Educational Leadership Center.

The group also plans to speak at Tuesday’s school board meeting.

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Brevard and Marion County school districts have decided to leave the decision for face coverings up to parents.

Brevard added a parental opt-out to its mandate Friday after the county reached 50.1 cases per 100,000 people.

Marion schools say they feel comfortable letting students not wear masks with the county’s rolling positivity rate staying under 5% for two straight weeks.

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In Seminole County, the district is dropping its mask mandate for parents and students, effective Friday, because case rates have dropped enough.

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