ESE parents left in the dark about mask policy

Exceptional Student Education (ESE) parents originally thought their students would be exempt from certain face-to-face school reopening guidelines, particularly those that require students to wear face masks.

However, parents like Emily Carreon were left with questions after hearing comments at Tuesday’s Orange County School Board meeting.Dr. Barbara Jenkins, Orange County Public Schools Superintendent, said the state has made firm recommendations on all children wearing face masks with the exception of having medical conditions.

She said there would need to be more discussion when it comes to students who are part of ESE programs.

“The issue around ESE students or someone who cannot, for various reasons, wear a mask; we are going to need to revisit because it is a department of health’s recommendation that if they cannot wear a mask, they should probably be on one of the other platforms for their learning,” she said. Dr. Jenkin’s then paraphrased statements from the FDOH: “If they have an exceptionality or special needs, to exempt them from the mask, you are then putting them at risk to put them in a school setting.”

The school district’s current policy requires a doctor’s note for medical health conditions. Emily Carreon, whose son is on the autism spectrum, has concerns about how inclusive that language is.

“There is a whole different side of it too,” she said. “Not all children are immunocompromised, but have sensory processing disorders, have behavioral issues, have a gambit of things that don’t fall under medically fragile. It’s unfair to say if they don’t wear a mask if they can’t wear a mask, then they shouldn’t be coming to school.”

Many families depend on face-to-face services provided at public schools. That is why Carreon believes it is important for the district to figure out a way to make face-to-face learning possible for ESE students, even if the students can’t wear masks.

“It really impacts the ESE population. They’re already not receiving the services that they need. Distance learning taught us that. They didn’t receive their speech services, their OT services, so face to face is really the option that works best for most ESE kids,” she said.

When asked to clarify mask policy for ESE students, a media relations manager for the Orange County School District said the policy is still being discussed.

“Our Medical Advisory committee discussed this at yesterday’s meeting and have not made a final recommendation.”Final recommendations from that committee will be discussed at Monday’s special school board meeting.