Parents rally for, against extension of Orange County school mask mandates

School districts across Central Florida are making changes to their mask policies.

For example, parents can now opt their students out of wearing a mask at schools in Brevard County. This came after the number of COVID-19 cases dropped to a new low in the county.

In Marion County, masks are optional for students, staff, and visitors. Seminole County will follow in this lead at the end of the month.

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In Orange County, where the school district’s mask policy remains in place, parents remain divided over the issue.  

Since the beginning of the school year, masks have been required in Orange County public schools. There is no parental opt-out policy either so the only students exempt from the mask mandate are those with a medical exemption from a doctor.

However, the current mask policy is scheduled to expire on Saturday.  It could be subject to an extension though.

Parents, teachers, and politicians gathered outside the Orange County Public Schools administration on Monday, holding demonstrations over the mask mandate. Two concurrent rallies were held for and against lifting the current policy.

The group, called "Mask Up OCPS" rallied at 10:30 a.m. outside of the Orange County Public Schools headquarters, calling for Orange County to keep masks in schools until the children’s COVID-19 vaccines are approved and students can get fully vaccinated.

Mask Up OCPS wants parents to show up to the Orange County school board meeting on Tuesday to speak during public comment and ask the board to vote to keep the current mask policy in place until students can be fully vaccinated.

"It provides security and peace of mind to the educators and parents," said Wendy Doromal, president of the Orange County Classroom Teachers Association.

The teachers association said they want children who are not yet eligible for the vaccine to stay COVID-free.  Many demonstrators held signs indicating that they want the mask requirement to be extended for six more weeks until winter break.

At the time, parents with the group "Unmask Our Kids" gathered to counter-protest.  The group says it supports every parent’s decision to send their child to school with or without a mask but it does not support a one-size-fits-all mandate.  The group is pursuing legal action against the OCPS school board, to force them into compliance with Florida state law. 

"If they want to put on their kid that’s their right as a parent. It's my right as a parent to decide what's best for my kid," said parent Chris Parker.

They said they are listening to the advice of the state's new surgeon general.

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Florida State Sen. Victor Torres, a Democrat, said some people are playing politics with health policy.

"You're not a rubber stamp for the governor. You are not a rubber stamp for anyone but the protection of the community," he said.

Parents supporting the mask mandate said they will be wearing green as a show of support at the school board meeting. 

Orange County Public Schools has confirmed to FOX 35 that Tuesday's regularly scheduled school board meeting "does not have the topic of mask requirements on the agenda," adding that the current mask requirement remains in place until Oct. 30.

Watch FOX 35 Orlando for the latest Central Florida news.