Seminole County rules against mask mandate

Masking at school will continue to be opt-out


photo by Alexis Madlang

James Lopez stands with and without a mask. The school board voted against a mask mandate this Thursday.

Hundreds of parents gathered outside the Seminole Education Center for a Seminole Country School Board meeting on Thursday, Sept. 2. They came with a specific mission in mind: to present their opinions on mask mandates to the School Board, resulting in a ruling against mandatory masking. 

Tensions quickly ran high as the meeting began. Although scheduled to run from 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., the 30 minutes allotted for general input was stretched to nearly four hours. 

The meeting began with a presentation from medical experts. Much of the initial dialogue was based not on masks, but on case rates, infection rates, and face-to-face versus online schooling. 

Open dialogue began with a bang as a parent who yelled out in opposition to the board was forcefully removed from the meeting. At least two parents were asked to leave as the session went on. The more rowdy parents were talking over those presenting, and as the meeting dragged out, tolerances for disorder became lower. Some parents voluntarily left, seemingly fed up with a perspective different from their own.  

Parent Deborah Donahue, the first open-session speaker of the meeting, began with support for masking. “I’m just asking to listen to the medical professionals. They truly know what is best for our children, they truly know what is best for our communities.” She later cited her child as performing well on the ACT, stating “masks do not interfere with learning.”

The conversation oscillated between those in favor of masking and those starkly opposed to it. Cries of “order” were repeatedly heard as the crowd erupted in cheering or booing. 

The majority of parents at the meeting were opposed to a mask mandate. Parent Tom Cricker began by introducing himself and quickly began to give his case against masking. 

“We are changing policy for .1% of the students in Seminole County who [have] Covid. Why are we not talking about the number of people having to repeat schooling? 3% of Seminole County Students have had to repeat a grade last year,” Cricker said. 

Since the pandemic started, Seminole County Public Schools has reported 1,672 cases among its 67,000 students and 10,000 staff (or 2.2%) as of Friday, Sept. 3. For the county’s published data on Covid-19 information, click here.

After over four hours of parental discussion, the board voted 3-1 to preserve the status quo and refrain from a mask mandate. The current policy is mandatory masking with a parental opt-out.

The School Board’s decision was somewhat unexpected as Volusia, Orange and Brevard County passed mandates within the last week, but it was worth noting that three of the board were not wearing a mask during the meeting. A Florida court decision ruled against Gov. Ron DeSantis’ mask mandate ban earlier this month, making Seminole County’s compliance with the order more surprising. 

Seminole County School Board mentioned a possibility of revisiting the masking debate at a later date. Until then, no mask mandate will be implemented for students on Seminole County school grounds.