Osceola County Schools rejects mask mandate as confusion mounts

OSCEOLA COUNTY, Fla. — Osceola County Schools rejected a proposal to mandate masks for all students and staff, opting to retain the status quo for now.

The decision, after hours of public comment and many outbursts from a mostly anti-mask crowd, placed the district at odds with neighboring Orange and Brevard counties. Three more Central Florida districts, Seminole, Volusia and Lake, are expected or scheduled to have discussions of their own later this week.

READ: Brevard School Board votes to reinstate mask mandate

Osceola’s decision comes days after one of its schools shut down in-person learning due to a high number of students testing positive. Doctors from Nemours also advised universal masking during the district’s meeting.

Some board members, however, appeared to be influenced by the district’s attorney, who said a judge’s recent ruling declaring mask mandates legal would be stayed when Gov. DeSantis’ team appeals.

He cautioned board members from acting until the state supreme court had a chance to act.

READ: Orange County Medical Examiner’s Office steps in to help hospitals with space for COVID-19 deceased

His counsel was more conservative than other legal experts WFTV interviewed after the judge’s decision was read.

“I’m certain the governor will appeal,” Stetson University Professor Louis Virelli, III said Friday. “In the meantime, it will be legal, no questions asked for school districts to mandate masks.”

However, the state government is ignoring the ruling. The Department of Education announced that it was withholding funds from Alachua and Broward schools as of Monday. The money was designated for school board members’ salaries only. The two districts were the first to defy DeSantis.

READ: 95% of Florida’s ICU beds in use, even as COVID-19 cases start to decline

At the same time, the Biden administration said it was investigating five states that banned mask mandates in schools for civil rights violations. Florida was not included on that list because of the judge’s decision.

Some of Osceola’s board members indicated they’d be more open to a discussion after the court case ends, as well as after the district’s current policy ends.

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