ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. — A judge has denied Orange County Public Schools and five other districts access to COVID-19 data for students as COVID cases in Orange County school district have exceeded last school year’s.

What You Need To Know

  • Orange County Public Schools’ dashboard reports 7,529 total confirmed COVID-19 cases

  • This is up from the 7,379 total cases for the 2020-21 school year

The school districts in Orange, Duval, Alachua, Leon, Miami-Dade and Broward counties are fighting against the state's parental opt-out option in mask policies and wanted data for children in counties that have mask mandates and those that do not.

State Administrative Law Judge Brian Newman decided that information is confidential.

He said the districts have not shown the release of this information is necessary to public health.

Some school districts have navigated around the state’s parental opt-out of mask requirements by allowing parents to do so with a doctor’s note.

However, regardless of Newman’s ruling, some parents in Orange County want the school board to extend the district’s mask mandate even longer. 

This comes as the total number of COVID-19 cases in Orange County Public Schools this year has already surpassed last year’s total.  

Currently, the Orange County Public Schools’ dashboard reports 7,529 total confirmed COVID-19 cases in students and staff for this school year. 

This is up from the 7,379 total cases for the 2020-21 school year. 

“It’s disheartening that they’ve already passed last year’s number and it’s only October,” said parent Lora Vail. 

While the current total confirmed COVID cases for this school year has already exceeded last years’, daily case numbers have steadily gone down, even before the district’s mask mandate went into place. 

But that mandate is set to expire on Oct. 30.

And Vail and other like-minded parents want the district to extend it. 

“When the masks go on, case rates go down, when the masks come off, case rates go up, so why would we take our foot off the gas now?” she said. 

At a work session Tuesday, school board chairwoman Teresa Jacobs was asked whether the school board is considering extending it. 

She said the state is not making it an easy decision for her and the other board members. 

“As much as I would like to extend it until we have a vaccine in place … I hope we win that lawsuit and I think we should win that lawsuit, but the balancing act here of trying to do right by our children and right by those rules has been extremely, frankly gut-wrenching for me personally,” Jacobs told Spectrum News 13.

But Vail hopes the board will continue to rely on experts and science and not give in to pressure from the state. 

“What worries me is what’s going to happen if we take away the only protection these kids have,” Vail said. 

Local health leaders have repeatedly said COVID cases in schools are usually reflective of high positivity rates overall in the county.

While it remains to be seen what exactly the school board will decide, Orange County’s positivity rate is currently around 5%.

Vail and some other parents would like to see the board extend the mandate until the end of the semester. 

For now, she takes her son out of the cafeteria to have lunch with him. Vail loves having lunch with her first-grade son Cooper Vail. She does this so he can avoid eating in the cafeteria with all the other kids.

“You can’t wear a mask while you eat, so we didn’t feel super comfortable with that yet. So luckily I’m fortunate enough to check him out for lunch every day so we have a little picnic,” she said. 

Vail is very concerned about her son’s safety in school since he is not eligible yet for a vaccine.