Parents hope end of Orange County state of emergency could lead to no mask mandates in schools

ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. — Anti-mask parents are hoping their children will finally be free to choose to uncover their faces when the school district’s mask mandate expires at the end of the week.

That relies on the superintendent’s decision expected Thursday afternoon. Supt. Barbara Jenkins has the authority to extend the mandate six more weeks, fulfilling the wishes of pro-mask parents, but she hasn’t indicated which direction she is leaning toward.

She said her decision would be influenced by events that unfold Wednesday, including the county’s decision to end its state of emergency.


“We certainly are encouraged by the direction of the data,” a district spokesman said, answering a reporter’s question after Mayor Demings’ announcement. “It’s not one indicator, it’s many that that we’ll be looking at.”

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Other criteria: conversations between Jenkins and health experts, as well as her board members.

Some school board members are supportive of a mandate extension, citing masks’ proven success at reducing COVID-19 transmission rates.

“Masks are what we have to protect our kids,” Karen Castor-Dentel said. “We know masks work.”

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Addressing the anti-mask crowd before her, Castor-Dentel listed numerous expensive safety measures the district took to protect kids, like security guards, cameras and hardened school entrances. She asked the group why they weren’t supportive of this measure as well.

Other board members, detailing the recent decline of new virus cases, were more hesitant.

Back in late July, school board members decided against a mask mandate when the COVID-19 positivity rate was hovering around 14%. They ultimately caved once the rate climbed above 20%.

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With the rate at 3.8% in Orange County over the past two weeks, some are recalling their promise to end the mandate once numbers declined to controllable levels.

“Absolutely,” Nate Robertson said, when asked if leaders were potentially breaking their promise to parents like him.

Still, pro-mask parents pushed for the extension, citing the fact that kids cannot get vaccinated.

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“They’re not considering the safety of our children, the safety of immunocompromised or disabled children or underprivileged children,” Lora Vail said.

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