New Orange County schools superintendent addresses controversies, pledges to make safety a priority

Dr. Maria Vazquez takes over one of the largest school districts in the country

WKMG Click Orlando | By Jerry Askin | Updated June 30, 2022

ORLANDO, Fla. – Orange County has a new public school superintendent. Dr. Maria Vazquez was formally selected this week to lead one of the largest school districts in the country.

Vazquez opened up to News 6 about key topics like school security, the controversial parental rights in education law, teacher raises and more.

Vazquez is also the first Hispanic superintendent of Orange County Public Schools.

“I am both humbled and honored to have been selected,” said Vazquez. “My parents immigrated here from Cuba. There were just amazing adults who took care of me and supported me.”

When asked about the controversial parental rights in education law that critics have dubbed as “Don’t Say Gay,” Vazquez said. “I believe that schools should be a safe place for all children. All of our children when they come to Orange County Public Schools are in a place where we value who they are regardless.”

Vazquez said she also wants to clear up any misconceptions as she is reviewing guidance from the state filed in court this week.

The district says the new guidance gives them a better interpretation of the law.

Part of the guidance reads in part, “For kindergarten through grade three, they simply must not handle these situations by teaching the subjects of sexual orientation or gender identity.”

It also said, “There is no merit, for example, to the suggestion that the statute restricts gay and transgender teachers from “put[ting] a family photo on their desk” or “refer[ring] to themselves and their spouse.”

Parents, however, have been more vocal about criticisms and concerns about censorship.

“You as a board and the superintendent need to make student-centered decisions in every facet,” said one parent at a school board meeting.

“I will fight for every child’s right to have a safe supportive learning environment where they can thrive,” said Vazquez. “Whether it’s supporting Hispanic children or children who are afraid for other reasons, I am humbled and honored to be able to work for all of them.”

Vazquez said school security is key, especially in light of the recent school shooting in Uvalde, Texas, and even closer to home, the Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School shooting back in 2018.

“Safety is our number one concern,” said Vazquez. “Asking for an ID before people are coming onto our campuses, having single entry points to our schools, making sure our doors are locked.”

Vazquez said she’s also working with various agencies to make sure not only schools, but neighborhoods are safe, too.

“Looking at what happens after school. Do children have safe places to go to where they can get homework help, enrichment activities as opposed to being home alone or our in the neighborhood?” she said.

She told News 6 she’s also placing a focus on addressing mental health and the social-emotional well-being for students and families.

“We have guidance counselors in each one of our schools, we have allocated a social worker at every middle and high school and the ratio is 2-1 at the elementary schools,” said Vazquez.

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