ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. — Faced with rapidly increasing numbers of COVID-19 cases, the Orange County School Board on Tuesday approved a 60-day mask mandate for everyone at its prekindergarten through 12th grade public schools.

Parents had been able to opt their children out of the previous mandate by sending a note to school, but the new rule significantly narrows the ability for a student to go maskless. Now, the only way to opt out is with a note from a doctor or other medical practitioner. 

The new mandate will go into effect Monday and will last until at least Oct. 30.

The school board informed parents with the following letter:

Orange County became the latest school district to defy an executive order by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, which bans face masks in schools, joining Hillsborough, Broward, Sarasota, Leon, Alachua, Miami-Dade and Palm Beach counties. The Florida Department of Education has threatened to withhold pay for the superintendent and school board members in Broward and Alachua counties for defying DeSantis' order.

Since Aug. 2, OCPS has reported 2,343 positive COVID cases, including 1.810 students and 510 employees. It has quarantined 1,806 individuals, including 1,798 students. The district had issued 543 active quarantines Tuesday and 503 Monday.  Of individual schools, Cypress Creek High School has the most cases, with nine.

The decision came as parents, teachers and political activists have debated whether schools should make the move to try to limit the spread of the virus within public schools.

There is also a lawsuit being argued in court over DeSantis' ability to issue the executive order in the first place. 

After the School Board vote Tuesday, Florida Sen. Linda Stewart (D-Orlando) came out in support of the decision.

"I am happy to see our constitutional officers taking a stand to place the safety of our children at the forefront of policymaking," she said in a statement. "This decision takes a position against threats from the Governor and Commissioner of Education, and continues to exercise the importance of home rule. We cannot continue to ignore the number of students and staff testing positive for COVID-19. Today’s action will help prevent the spread of COVID-19, unnecessary school closures and protect students’ scholarship opportunities. OCPS members have done what is needed to keep all our children safe."

This is a breaking news story. Check back for more information.