- The Washington Times - Monday, October 25, 2021

A small but vocal group of parents in Orlando, Florida, held a “don’t stop now” rally Monday to demand that young schoolchildren remain masked until they are vaccinated, as public school districts across the state prepare to drop COVID-19 mask mandates for students.

The rally outside the offices of Orange County Public Schools, held by a group of parents who dubbed themselves “Mask Up OCPS,” called on school board officials to “keep masks in school” for six more weeks after the board’s mandate expires on Saturday.

On Facebook Sunday night, the group pledged to attend Tuesday’s weekly school board meeting to repeat its demand.

In a statement emailed Monday to The Washington Times, district spokesman Mike Ollendorff said the school board did not plan to discuss an extension of the mandate that he said “remains in place until Oct. 30” for all students who do not have medical exemptions.

“At this time, tomorrow’s regularly scheduled school board meeting does NOT have the topic of mask requirements on the agenda,” Mr. Ollendorff wrote in the statement.

Rally participant Jenifer Hill, mother of a second-grader, told ABC affiliate WFTV-9 that she won’t feel comfortable letting go of the masks until elementary school children become eligible for vaccines as early as next month.

“Our numbers are improving in different areas, but we’re so close to a new goal with children 5 to 11,” Ms. Hill said.

The television station reported that the county’s rolling positivity rate is now 4% and that COVID cases continue to decline.

Monday’s rally came one month after the Orange County school board fired an employee who refused to mask up. At a tense Sept. 28 board meeting, police escorted out four anti-vaccine parents after one compared the district’s pandemic policies to Adolf Hitler’s Third Reich.

Mask Up OCSP announced the rally to 85 followers on its Twitter page and to 345 fans on its Facebook page, where 22 people registered to attend.

“Our kids under 12 need a chance to get vaccinated before OCPS takes away their only protection,” the group said in its Facebook message Sunday night.

The group did not respond Monday morning to a request for comment.

In addition to Orange County, Florida’s Seminole County is expected to drop its school mask mandate by the end of this week.

Brevard and Marion counties also are loosening their mask requirements.

• Sean Salai can be reached at ssalai@washingtontimes.com.

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