ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. — As the new school year approaches, one mother says she worries about kids bullying each other over their mask-wearing choices.
What You Need To Know
- Gov. Ron DeSantis recently issued an executive order that bans mask mandates in Florida schools
- One Orange County mother says she's glad the decision is in the hands of parents
- A UCF expert says the masking issue could create an "us vs. them" situation in schools
Tyler Griffis and his brother Ethan have all the supplies they need to start the 2021-22 school year in Ocoee.
One thing they won’t be packing this year however will be masks.
It’s a decision Ethan and Tyler’s mom Brianne says they didn’t take lightly.
“With Ethan and Tyler and his speaking difficulties, verbal communication issues … we’ve talked to his developmental pediatrician who thinks that going without masks is a good option for the boys for their mental health, for their physical health,” Brianne Griffis said.
Griffis said she’s felt a lot of anxiety watching the back and forth between school, local and state leaders about mask wearing in school.
Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings "came down with some stuff and then DeSantis put an emergency order in, so its just literally been like following a soap opera,” she said.
Griffis said she is glad Gov. Ron DeSantis issued an executive order banning mask mandates in schools, which she says puts the masking decision in parents' hands.
DeSantis has received criticism about the executive order locally and on the national level, though, with U.S. Education Secretary Miguel Cardona saying that taking away a school district's ability to mandate masks risks the return to in-person learning.
But Griffis said they’ve worked hard to teach their kids to respect other kids whether they wear masks or not.
“We tell them, 'Some of your friends will be in masks, we completely support and love everyone, we allow them that space,'” she said.
But she worries other children might not to do the same, which could create opportunities for others to bully her sons.
“I think that’s going to be the thing that we’re struggling with the most right now,” said University of Central Florida associate professor and child mental health expert Dalena Dillman Taylor about the potential for bullying.
“Now we’re looking at an 'us vs. them' mentality, right? Like, ‘They’re wearing it, I’m not, but I want to be friends with them, I want to hang out with them,’” she said.
Taylor said it will be more important now than ever to talk with kids about what they’re experiencing at school.
“Just being available to have those conversations with your kids,” she said.
That is what Griffis says she’ll be doing.
“We have what’s called safe talk time, so when they get home from school, throughout the week or anytime, they can call ‘safe talk time’ and during that time they can tell me anything,” she said.
Even though they won't be sending them to school with masks, Griffis said they're still emphasizing the importance of frequent hand washing and other health precautions.
According to OCPS information about masks and face coverings, if students are picked on for wearing or not wearing a mask, "Principals will make clear that student and parent choices must be respected regardless of their preference. School Board Policy ADD and the Bullying and Harassment provision of the OCPS Code of Student Conduct would be applied."