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BEACON PHOTO/MARSHA MCLAUGHLIN BACK TO SCHOOL — Student arrive for the first day of school Aug. 16 at George Marks Elementary in DeLand.

In the face of rising numbers of COVID-19 cases among students and staff as the school year begins, the Volusia County School Board leaned in favor of a mask mandate at its Aug. 24 meeting, but got cold feet about the legality of requiring masks and dithered about when to take a vote.

The School Board decided to postpone a potential vote on a mask mandate until an emergency meeting set for 6 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 31.

The school system reported 232 cases in schools two full days after school began Aug. 16. That number was up to 358 as of Aug. 20.

The School Board couldn’t make an immediate decision at its regular meeting Aug. 24 because the State of Florida is no longer under a pandemic-induced state of emergency. 

To pass, a mask mandate would require the support of at least three of the five School Board members.

Members Ruben Colón, Linda Cuthbert and Carl Persis have all signaled they would support it. Colón and Cuthbert previously voiced support for mandating masks. 

“Prevention is the best cure,” Cuthbert said. “Our best prevention is wearing a mask and staying socially distanced.”

At the Aug. 24 meeting, School Board Member Anita Burnette also suggested she would be in support of a mask mandate, while Member Jamie Haynes continued her pushback against a requirement that students and adults in schools wear masks. Adults, including teachers and volunteers, are already under a 30-day mandate to mask up.

Persis began the conversation about masks as a School Board meeting that had already gone on for four hours began to wind down. The mask discussion then continued for another nearly two hours.

Persis said the more transmissible delta variant of COVID-19 poses a larger threat to students as the school year begins in earnest. 

“We’ve got to just put a clamp on it and see if we can suffocate it right where it is now,” Persis, a former school principal, said. “I think it is a war, and I think it’s a war we are losing. When you’re in a war, I think everyone has to make sacrifices.”

Across Florida, some districts, including those in Alachua, Broward, Sarasota and Orange counties, have passed mask mandates with opt-out options, despite the governor’s rule prohibiting mandates. 

Counties imposing mask mandates have been threatened by Gov. Ron DeSantis with loss of funding equivalent to the salaries of board members who voted in favor of requiring masks in schools. School Board Attorney Ted Doran called the governor’s threats “preposterous” and illegal.

Superintendent Scott Fritz told the School Board he was wary of a mask mandate, not wanting to go against the governor’s orders.

“I understand you want to do what’s right for kids. So do I. But this should not be made lightly,” Fritz said. “This is a big deal.”

“We’re going to have some answers on the legal questions if we defer it some,” Doran said.

If the Volusia County School Board members adopt the emergency mask order Aug. 31, the mandate would be in place for 90 days, barring another vote to revoke the order.

13 COMMENTS

  1. The school district needs to put a mandate mask in place. We are going to see more and more younger children will be sick and out of school. Our governor is so wrong what he is doing. Let’s see his family and friends fight for their life’s. The school borders need to put the masks mandate on now for our children.y’all need to do the right things for our students. My grandkids are scared. I don’t blame them for being scared Yall need to put mandate masks on until this virus goes a way

      • OK Ken…..if parents aren’t responsible enough to care about other peoples children, then those powers should be taken away. The schools cannot segregate the children. I believe they should put all masked children in the same classrooms and all the unmasked children in the same classrooms. But until they can implicate that, the unmasked children are still a bigger risk to everyone around them.

    • If you’re scared keep you kids/grandkids home and let mine live NORMAL lives. If they choose to wear a mask let them if they not want to Do NOT FORCE IT

      • Children wearing a mask create no more risk whatsoever to the children around them. Children not wearing a mask have more potential to make children around them sick. THOSE are the kids that should stay home. Don’t want to wear a mask?… Stay home… Why be a biohazard??

        • 100% Do not segregate kids at home because other children do not wear masks. Every child has fundamental human rights to education, health, and safety. Too many people confuse the anti-segregation laws established in Brown v. Board of Education with protections to mitigate the spread of illness during a pandemic. Mask or not, definitely separate children in the classroom from each other based on whether they wear masks so that both groups can respect each other and be more secure. Children have a right to be safe at school and learn. Their mental health and safety are important as well. Perhaps children without masks would also like to learn from home/stay home? Many of the children who wear masks are finally returning to live classes from a year at home. Support them and the orphans who lost parents and guardian grandparents. People are dying from COVID-19 like flies on a wall. It is horrific.

    • Governor DeSantis sends his children to private school where his children are obligated to wear a mask. He and his wife have stock shares in Regeneron, the company that make the medicine that they give Covid patients. Ron DeSantis makes a profit every time a Covid patient needs the medicine. Sick patients = bigger paychecks. This is not political, or about basic rights… People need to wake up and see that this is all about financial gain. Let’s stop the division and start saving lives !!!

  2. if your child gets sick God forbid, and is in the ventilator because you choose not to put him/her a mask how will you feel? what will you do? I respect everyone opinion but is our obligation to make sure our kids are safe and keep them safe as parents.

  3. The children wearing masks are the ones protecting the other children around them. If you and your selfish child do not want to wear a mask then stay home. That way you are not a liability to the people around you. My child wearing a mask helps your child… Whilst your child not wearing a mask can potentially harm my child!! I know science is not easy for you anti-maskers to understand, but, just because you don’t believe in it, it doesn’t mean it science doesn’t exist.

  4. If parents are so concerned about masks let them stay home and homeschool their children. My children went back due to not having to wear masks. And not even seven days in you want to change the rules. These kids already had Covid starting into the school year. Show me where it is proven masks actually protect the kids and it’s not just false security. At this point it’s not if you get Covid it’s when you get Covid. So exercise, vitamin up and BREATHE.

  5. It our choice what to do with our kids not a school boards. If they go with it my kids will not be coming back to any of your schools along with alit of others. And you will be reported and there will be protests which I will attend. Corona isn’t going away just like the flu. If your scared then stay home.

  6. The issue is not with whether a student wears a mask or not but rather with what steps are taken in the classroom after a student has tested positive for Covid. While wearing masks gives peace of mind that we are supposedly protected or protecting others, the bottom line is if it is not a proper mask that is professionally fitted to each individual’s face, (like in the surgical world) than they do very little to stop the spread of the virus. My student as well as their entire class wore masks and as of yesterday now have a third confirmed case in their class alone. One real issue is with the school’s “contact tracing” measures taken after a positive case is found. They only quarantine students whose desks are within a 6ft radius of the positive case. In reality, the entire class should be quarantined and the classroom allowed sufficient time to be properly sanitized. We as parents know when our kids go back to school they eventually catch some type of germ or virus because kids are not the greatest at remembering to keep their hands off of their face, wash/sanitize their hands properly or often enough, and cough or sneeze appropriately. So their germs are not only spread strictly within a 6ft radius of their desk but throughout the entire classroom on whatever surfaces they may touch at any given time throughout the day. It only takes one sneeze or cough while a child is out of their assigned seat to infect someone outside of their 6ft area. Which was proven in my child’s class as all three positive cases were not within a 6ft radius of each other, and all three students wore masks. The time and effort spent by those people who strive to force others to breathe through a dirty, sweaty mask that doesn’t truly offer the safety and prevention of the spread of illness as well as they are made to believe, should rather be spent striving to train their own children and instill in their lives a habit of proper hand washing/sanitizing, cleaning surfaces they use that may be touched by other students in the course of each day, refraining from touching their face and mouth, and coughing and sneezing appropriately. Mandating masks will not put a damper on these rising Covid cases in our schools, instead proper hygiene habits and the school’s ability to quarantine appropriately when Covid cases are determined will.

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