Florida OKs school vouchers in districts requiring masks

Diligent tween girl in protective mask studying in school
COVID-19 harassment includes 'threatening, discriminatory, insulting or dehumanizing verbal, written or physical conduct.'

Public school students facing mask mandates could be given school vouchers to transfer schools under an emergency rule approved Friday, and students could receive protection from “harassment” based on their decision whether to wear masks.

The State Board of Education released a proposed emergency rule ahead of its meeting called after Gov. Ron DeSantis ordered a prohibition on mask mandates in schools last week. Classes start next week in several school districts.

The rule includes a definition for “COVID-19 harassment” as targeted conduct against students stemming from a school district’s COVID-19 protocols. The list of prohibited protocols include mask requirements, separating or isolating students or providing COVID-19 testing requirements.

Such protocols “pose a health or educational danger” to students and lead to learning loss, according to the Board of Education.

DeSantis tied the order to the “Parents’ Bill of Rights,” which he signed into law in June. Similarly, board members stressed that the order is about protecting parental choice and students.

After concerns from some members of the public that the rule harms their right to protect their children’s safety, Chair Tom Grady closed the meeting by saying the board uses a “single filter” in its considerations: what’s best for students.

“At times it may appear to be in conflict with what’s best for other groups, but we focus on what’s best for the kids and the students and the system for which we’re responsible,” Grady said.

Students affected by “threatening, discriminatory, insulting or dehumanizing verbal, written or physical conduct” would be eligible to apply for a Hope Scholarship. That scholarship enables K-12 public school students who face harassment or other adverse treatment at school to transfer to private schools or other districts.

“Unnecessarily isolating, quarantining, or subjecting children to physical COVID-19 constraints in schools poses a threat to developmental upbringing and should not occur absent a heightened showing of actual illness or serious risk of illness to other students,” the rule’s notice reads.

The Board of Education’s rule works in tandem with a Department of Health rule requiring schools to let parents or guardians “opt-out the student from wearing a face covering or mask.” Surgeon General Scott Rivkees signed that rule Friday, along with rules for COVID-19 symptoms, positives and exposures.

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DeSantis celebrated those orders in a statement Friday afternoon.

“When the wellbeing of our students and our constitutional freedoms are at stake, we will stand up for Florida families,” he said. “Giving parents options to make these decisions is not controversial. I’m proud that today we took action to make sure school administrators respect parents’ rights to make educational and healthcare decisions for their families. I will continue to fight to protect Florida’s families from government overreach and to preserve their God-given rights.”

Despite DeSantis’ mask-optional order, several counties are moving forward with alternative mandates, including mask rules for employees and visitors or while students are on buses.

Leon County Schools Superintendent Rocky Hanna mandated employees wear masks indoors when within six feet of students when school starts next week. He also requested from the Governor the ability to implement a K-8 mask mandate.

Duval County students must wear masks unless their parents opt them out. Alachua County students must wear masks for the first two weeks.

DeSantis’ order authorizes Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran to “pursue all legal means available to ensure school districts adhere to Florida law.” That includes potentially defunding districts that defy the executive order.

The Board of Education, which oversees public schools for the Department of Education, also considered a rule allowing quarantining students to be counted as attending classes for funding purposes. Those students must have access to assignments and curricula.

With classes set to resume in the coming days and weeks, schools have reemerged as a political battleground amid the pandemic.

Sen. Gary Farmer, a Broward County Democrat, sent Corcoran a letter Thursday claiming the proposed measure breaks state law.

“The Governor does not have the statutory authority to instruct your Department to engage in rulemaking, nor does your Department have the authority to do so on this particular issue,” Farmer wrote.

Individuals across the state called into Friday’s meeting with praise and criticism over the rule.

One parent wanted the Board of Education to take the rules further to prevent COVID-19 harassment in the first place.

Kirby Thomas, a parent in Leon County, disagreed that taking proven health care precautions is harassment and called the rule “irresponsible and reckless.”

“This is irresponsible and reckless language, and it’s quite frankly reprehensible,” she said. “I urge you to look beyond the false platitudes of parental rights and personal freedoms that this rule espouses.”

Renzo Downey

Renzo Downey covers state government for Florida Politics. After graduating from Northwestern University in 2019, Renzo began his reporting career in the Lone Star State, covering state government for the Austin American-Statesman. Shoot Renzo an email at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @RenzoDowney.


12 comments

  • Ron Ogden

    August 6, 2021 at 11:41 am

    “COVID-19 harassment includes ‘threatening, discriminatory, insulting or dehumanizing verbal, written or physical conduct.’
    So. . .if I am a masked up student and I encounter a group of unmasked students and I refuse to interact with them, isn’t that “discriminatory” or “insulting” or “dehumanizing” physical conduct?
    Just goes to show you how tangled up government can become when trying to regulate human behavior. Individual choice is the solution–no contradictory, ineffective and therefore foolish mandates from on high.

  • Matthew Lusk

    August 6, 2021 at 12:39 pm

    Private schools can get it done for much cheaper and with a higher quality outcome. Public school teachers know this. Bitchez. Tax grubbers.

    • Alex

      August 8, 2021 at 12:57 pm

      My tax dollars are not going to pay to send little kids to Bible something hellfire School.

      And I have the Constitution to back me up.

      • Matthew Lusk

        August 8, 2021 at 1:14 pm

        Go back to your gay bar and sodomite friends.

        • Alex

          August 8, 2021 at 1:38 pm

          So you lie about me because you have nothing.

          Amusing.

          • Matthew Lusk

            August 9, 2021 at 1:07 pm

            My bad, your witch coven then.

        • Alex

          August 9, 2021 at 1:36 pm

          Twice now you’ve broken the Ninth Commandment.

          Did it make you feel better?

      • NOJO NMP

        August 8, 2021 at 1:56 pm

        It would be better than indoctrinating them into CRT self-loathing principles. Racist jibber jabber

        • Alex

          August 8, 2021 at 2:16 pm

          CRT is about two things;
          1. Racism is systemic (and easily provable because of how blacks are still treated here); https://curiousrefuge.com/blog/systemic-racism

          2. It can be repaired.

          Far right racists will tell you lies about it, because they like being racists, but they will NEVER tell you either of these.

  • Rob

    August 6, 2021 at 7:19 pm

    Amazing

  • Edward Lyle

    August 7, 2021 at 9:33 am

    This is great news! Every parent should have the choice to either educate their children via the ever-failing Public Indoctrination System, or a successful private/Christian school that actually follows the science. It’s an easy call… teach them

    Rioting, Racism, and Anarchy
    … or…
    Reading, Writing, and Arithmetic

    Defund the Teacher’s Unions!

  • From the Gulf of Florida

    August 8, 2021 at 6:45 pm

    Thank you Governor DeSantis for keeping your word, and protecting Florida’s family’s and their right to choose. I believe Governor DeSantis might be the leader of the free world right now, I’m proud to be Floridian.

Comments are closed.


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