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Masks remain mandatory in Volusia County Schools.

The Volusia County School Board’s mask mandate was an emergency order, lasting only 90 days — from Aug. 4 to Nov. 2. On Oct. 27, the School Board voted to extend it.

The updated plan is designed to last as long as the School Board finds it necessary to mandate the use of face-coverings to slow the spread of COVID-19.

The discussion was tense, as Board Members Carl Persis and Jamie Haynes called the effectiveness of students’ masks into question; however, the extension passed with a unanimous vote among the five School Board members.

Haynes argued that many children, especially those in elementary school, are not as good as older students at using masks properly and caring for them. Many children, she added, end up with very dirty masks by the end of the school day.

“Their mask, I don’t know what to say other than they’re disgusting. They are filthy,” Haynes said. She volunteered to provide food at an elementary school recently and said she witnessed it firsthand.

“Little kids are just not cognizant of food on their faces, and then they put these masks back on and that’s what they are breathing all day long,” Haynes said.

Volusia County Schools General Counsel Kevin Pendley agreed that all students, especially elementary-school students, should be offered more masks to replace masks that might become soiled. He said the district has plenty of stock, and that they will do a better job to get those masks to classrooms.

Board Member Carl Persis was skeptical, as well, arguing that differing reports on mask effectiveness were confusing.

“You read the CDC guidelines, they say one thing, then you read the World Health Organization guidelines,” he said, then reading from WHO guidelines that say children 5 years old and younger should not be required to wear masks .

  • The School Board recognized the month of November as Native American Heritage Month.

  • To combat the districtwide teacher shortage, Volusia County Schools has introduced new recruitment efforts, including increasing the district’s social-media presence and targeting minority applicants from historically black colleges and Hispanic-serving institutions. The school district currently has 148 vacancies, including teachers, administrative staff and support staff, like nurses and bus drivers.

  • The School Board adopted an updated social-media policy. Volusia County Schools employees, if they use social media, are instructed to keep their personal and professional accounts separate. Employees are to not use district logos on their personal social-media accounts or engage in “inappropriate behavior.” Teachers Union President Elizabeth Albert agreed that employees need to be held to a high standard, but noted the language did not define what is considered “inappropriate behavior” that could result in their termination. To read the updated social-media policy, click here.

  • This was the first meeting Board Member Ida Wright has attended in person since recovering from COVID-19. “We’re really glad you’re back,” Board Member Linda Cuthbert told her.

  • Several board members addressed their concerns about giving students too many assignments and tests. Board Member Jamie Haynes called for evaluating the number of assessments given to students.

— Noah Hertz

He continued, “I struggle, because I could see saying we need to keep the mask mandate as we have it for middle school and high school. For elementary school, I could live with having it optional, or whatever the parents wanted their child to do.”

Still, the main arguments for the mask mandate were recommendations from the Department of Health and the chance that wearing masks could prevent COVID-19 cases.

“One thing that is true about COVID-19, and I’ll say it over and over, it changes very quickly,” said Board Member Ruben Colón, who noted that he regularly talks with Volusia County Department of Health Administrator Patricia Boswell. Colón said Boswell still recommends people wear masks in schools.

“As a board, we are not medical professionals. There are no epidemiologists up here. We rely on the Florida Department of Health to guide us in the right direction,” Colón said. “If she [Boswell] comes back tomorrow and says kindergarten, first, second grade don’t need them, that’s a different story. But for right now, the recommendation is that we should [enforce a mask mandate].”

Board Member Linda Cuthbert noted that teachers should be comfortable with teaching students who have medical exemptions from wearing masks.

“I want to make sure that teachers are healthy, that nothing would be transmitted to that teacher,” she said. “I would like to make sure the teacher is aware, and has a conversation [with their principal] to say, ‘Are you comfortable?’”

Critics of the renewed mask mandate — including a group of protesters that delayed the start of the school board meeting by more than an hour — took umbrage with its change from an emergency order to a “permanent” policy. However, Colón pointed out that to call it “permanent” was misleading.

“There’s two policies: an emergency one, and a policy,” he said. “We are approving a policy after the emergency one. That is all we are doing,”

The School Board members voted unanimously to uphold the mask mandate and agreed to revisit it in the coming months. They agreed changes could be made to the policy if the CDC guidelines and a reduction in cases support it.

To read the updated School Board mask mandate, click here.


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