While the Orange County School Board voted 6 to 1 to make face coverings optional for the 2021-22 school year, the issue about whether or not children will need to wear face masks when school starts is not fully decided. School Board Chair Teresa Jacobs passionately discussed the matter to justify her vote to make masks optional this week, while fully reserving the right to change her decision at any time from optional to mandatory. She knows the passion on the other side is just as strong, adding “as much as I hate to have people unhappy with me, I can take people being very unhappy with me.”
“At this point where we are, I agree that I think we should be moving forward with the path of optional, but I also think it is extremely important that we be able to change even if that means we are changing between now and the start of the school year depending on what we see with the delta variant,” School Board Chair Jacobs said.
The Orange County School Board clearly recognized face masks and coverings will anger OCPS parents. Jacobs understands the strong opinions on both sides and that’s why she tried to articulate the concerns impacting major decisions like this.
“I look at the numbers out there, the number of children that have been seriously affected by COVID and I realize it is a small number. But I worry about the delta variant, and I worry about what happens in the next four weeks. I respect your strong opinions on both sides of this,” Jacobs said. “I can find data to support both arguments.”
“If we see that there is greater risk to our unvaccinated age population, our under 12, and I’m saying this because you all would be very, very unhappy with me if we go this direction and I understand that,” Jacobs added. “And as much as I hate to have people unhappy with me, I can take people being very unhappy with me. I work very, very hard for people not to lose trust. So somebody said ‘don’t go back on our word’ in terms of how we were going to vote today, and I heard that and it bothered me a little. Because when we passed this forward to this point, we did not bring it forward with a promise that we were going to vote for it.”
“I want to be honest with you that if I believe in my heart of hearts that a decision that I’ve made is putting our children at significant risk and that they would be safer with masks, then I will be back here advocating for that regardless of the number of people who will dislike me,” School Board Chair Jacobs continued. “I reserve the right to come back and revisit this data every single day. And you reserve the right to advocate fiercely for or against my opinion on this and that’s what makes us the country we are.”
To reverse this decision, Jacobs would be going against Governor Ron DeSantis and fellow Republican, who made it clear prior to the school board vote that there will be no mask mandates of any kind in Florida. She said she understands there is great value to being able to “play on the ball field and be kids” and so, at this moment, she thinks optional should be the case. But…
“I don’t know if we will be at the point in four weeks where we should be optional or we should be mandatory for our children under 12, and I think that remains in my mind to be seen,” School Board Chair Jacobs said just before the vote. “I will vote for this today with the caveat that every day I think we need to look at the information.”
The School Board Chair also directly took on opponents of face masks and coverings during her remarks. “The mask is supposedly, to those who believe in masks – I do, you don’t, I know – that I am protecting you more than I am protecting myself.” She then compared it to smoking cigarettes, and the “lost freedom” to smoke indoors due to secondhand smoke. She commented wearing a mask is protecting from “secondhand COVID virus.”
“I don’t like these masks, but I will wear them in a heartbeat – in a heartbeat – if I think I can save one person’s life or keep them from getting hospitalized, I will wear this in a heartbeat,” she added.