Central Florida parents concerned over no mask mandates at schools

With school starting Tuesday for Orange and Seminole counties, parents are concerned about sending their children back into the classroom with other students not wearing a mask.

Heather and Jose Rodriguez are worried about their son, Elijah, who's heading into the fourth grade in the Seminole County School District. The district has required masks, but parents can opt their child out of the requirement.

"I was really happy when they said that masks are required and then I saw the opt-out portion and it made me hesitant," Heather said. 

Elijah is autistic and Hispanic, which his parents say put him at a high risk of contracting the virus.

"And both of those are at a higher percentage to get COVID, and it made me worried about him going back to school," she said.

Gov. Ron DeSantis has banned schools from being able to enforce a mask mandate.  The governor has said he wants parents to be the ones to make choices for their children and not schools.

"Gov. DeSantis doesn’t know my child. He doesn’t know our family," Jose said. "So, all we’re asking is for Gov. DeSantis to let local schools make the best decisions for their own students based on the knowledge they have."

RELATED: Orange County prepares for school by detailing COVID protocols

Heather and Jose Rodriguez also fear that fewer masks could mean more students quarantining this year.

"So every time our child comes across another child without a mask it isn’t necessarily that they’ll get sick, it’s that they could end up being sent home for five to 10 days," Jose said.

The Florida Department of Health will be stepping up contact tracing efforts at schools. When FOX 35 asked Dr. Raul Pino if unmasked children could potentially cause more students to have to quarantine, he said that could very well be the case. 

But, he says every case is looked at individually and would depend on some other factors, like the length of exposure, distance, and masking on the potentially exposed student. 

Jose and Heather Rodriguez say that classroom interaction is vital to their son's education and it's time he cannot miss. 

But, they say they hope the school will be able to mandate masks for their son and other children with disabilities. 

"With his autism, we really need him to have as much classroom time as possible," Jose said. "So, he can have socialization skills and we really need to work hard to keep him at grade level."

A group of Florida parents who also have children with disabilities is suing the governor over the mask mandate ban. The lawsuit was filed on Friday.

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