Orange County school officials announce change to face mask mandate with parental opt-out

Kids wear masks as they return to school in Hillsborough County in August of 2021.

Orange County Public School officials announced late Thursday afternoon that the district's current face mask mandate will be allowed to expire on Oct. 30. 

The decision by Superintendent Barbara Jenkins comes a day after Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings announced that a state of emergency in the county had ended due to a drop in new coronavirus cases and a lower 14-day positivity rate. 

"After speaking with local medical advisers and board members, noting the significant reduction in the number of COVID-19 cases in Orange County, and hearing Mayor Demings announce the end of his local emergency order, I have determined not to extend our face mask mandate for students," said Dr. Jenkins.

Masks had been required since the beginning of the school year with no parental opt-out option.  Orange County Public Schools will return to required face masks with a parental opt-out provision starting Monday, Nov. 1. Parents or guardians can opt their child out of wearing a face mask based on a signed note delivered to the school.

Some school board members had argued that extending the mask mandate would have provided more protection to younger students who are not yet able to get the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine. The FDA’s approval for emergency use authorization in children ages 5 to 11 could be finalized in the next few weeks.

RELATED: Fauci: COVID-19 vaccines for younger kids could come as early as November

Other board members expressed concerns about the consequences they would have faced had they extended the mandate now that COVID cases have dropped by half since the mandate was put into place at the beginning of the school year. 

RELATED: Orange County's state of emergency expires due to dropping COVID levels

Employees, visitors, and volunteers will still be required to wear a face mask until further notice. Jenkins said they project making face masks optional for employees and other adults after Dec. 3 or sooner based on the data.

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