Central Florida parents weighing learning options as mask debate continues

FILE - First-grader Alexey seen during an online lesson. (Igor Golovniov/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

Safety in the classroom is at the forefront of parents' minds as the school year rapidly approaches. 

Many counties are keeping optional masking protocols even after the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended to mask all students in K-12 classrooms. This has parents contemplating their options. 

"If you re-implement mask mandates we will not be sending our students to school," said Michelle Manella. 

Those words were echoed through the chambers at last night’s Seminole County School Board meeting as well as other school board meetings held that same night. Parents in Orange County on both sides of the masking debate were threatening to pull their students from class depending on what the board decides. 

Parents who do so will have to use Orange County’s Virtual School program as OCPS has removed distance learning.

"However it may be an opportunity for teachers to voluntarily turn on their camera and their sound so that Johnny who is at home with the flu or with COVID can listen," said Orange County School Superintendent Barbara Jenkins. "He won’t be instructed directly but there may be an opportunity that if that teacher will voluntarily do so to allow students to listen in on class."

The Orange County Classroom Teachers Association said something like that has not been agreed upon, and with the hybrid model removed from the curriculum as well as other safety measures, teachers fear there are no backup plans in case of an outbreak.

"With 200,000 students returning to face-to-face, no mask and no social distancing guidelines, it would seem like the whole class would have to be quarantined," said President of the Orange County Classroom Teachers Association Wendy Doromal. 

If a whole class is out, OCPS says that a student could be taught virtually by their instructor. Although, the teachers association said that there are no longer any agreed-upon guidelines to offer teachings to those quarantined students, and rather make-up work will be their only option to catch up.

"Before the pandemic, if the child had an operation or gotten sick they would do make-up work and I know the teachers will work with parents and students to make that happen but it will not be through a camera," said Doromal. 

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