Orange County

Orange County School Board discusses response to federal lawsuit over mask mandates

ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. — Five of eight school boards named in a federal lawsuit along with Orange and Volusia counties over school mask mandates have now enacted stronger policies.

So far, Orange and Volusia counties still allow a parental opt out. On Tuesday, the issue should be raised again at the Orange County School Board meeting.

There are supporters both for and against a universal mask mandate gathering outside the meeting location, with a long list of people signed up to speak.

The Orange County School Board wants to figure out how to respond to the federal lawsuit, in which it doesn’t feel it belongs.

“I’m mad. I’m mad we’re placed in the predicament that we’re in,” OCPS board member Angie Gallo said.

This is a frustrating position for members of the Orange County School Board, stuck under the thumb of the state’s rule against mask mandates.

Yet OCPS is saddled alongside the governor, Florida’s Department of Education and seven other school district in federal court over the very issue of mask mandates.

“They deserve the right to access their free and appropriate public education just like every other child,” Orange County parent and attorney Judi Hayes said.

Hayes is part of a group of two dozen parents of special needs children across the state seeking an injunction to stop schools from following the governor’s order. that they say violates the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Volusia County parent Jamie Kinder is also part of the action on behalf of her immunocompromised fourth grader.

“In prior years, her medical disability did not exclude her from a free public school education and this year her medical disability does and that’s a problem,” Kinder said.

Since the U.S. Department of Education offered its support, there are now seven Florida school districts defying the state order.

At a recent school board work session, OCPS board member spoke openly about feeling undermined by the state and their shared frustration for parents of immunocompromised kids.

“They have lost their right to send their child to a public school with the safety provisions that are critical,” said OCPS board chair Teresa Jacobs.

On Tuesday, the district sent its first response to the lawsuit saying, in part, the complaint should be directed at the governor, not them.

The question for most board members hasn’t been not to enact the mandate, but how to do it legally and make it stick.

Channel 9 spoke to the governor’s office on Tuesday, and was told there’s been no shift in its position.

The districts now enacting stronger mask mandates should expect the same funding threat from the state that it sent to Alachua and Broward counties.

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