TALLAHASSEE (CBSMiami / AP) – Florida students will be allowed to use state-guaranteed vouchers to transfer to private schools if they object to wearing masks in classrooms, like Governor Ron DeSantis and state education officials argue that decisions about masks should be left to parents during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Florida Board of Education on Friday approved an emergency rule that will expand the state’s Hope scholarship voucher program to allow students who do not want to wear masks to transfer to private schools. The Hope Scholarship Program was originally intended to provide vouchers to students who have been bullied, for example. Friday’s rulings allow the use of vouchers for private schools if parents believe their children are harassed by a school district’s COVID-19 safety policies, including mask requirements.
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With some Florida schools starting in the next few days, the State Board of Education held an emergency meeting to discuss school district mask mandate policies approving two new rules. One prevents students who do not show up during the first two weeks from being unsubscribed, the other would allow students who have an issue with their school mask policy to transfer. “The rule specifically allows students who have been harassed by COVID-19 to be transferred to a private school or another school in the district or another district,” said Matthew Mears, general counsel for the State Board of Education, during Of the reunion.
The Emergency Rule expands the use of the “Hope Scholarship Program” which was originally created for bullied students. And, the board says given the mask controversy, it’s important to expand the guidelines to include those who feel harassed by a school district’s mask rules, such as the governor, the board says. it is the parents’ choice.
But not everyone agrees with this decision, “blood is going to be on the hands of Governor DeSantis and my colleagues,” State Senator Shevrin Jones said.
Senator Jones says expanding the Hope Scholarship to include Covid-19 harassment will hurt the school’s funding because if students are transferred – that’s less money provided to the school, the alternative he says is to risk the lives of students and teachers during the pandemic.
“If a school district is to have a mask requirement, it must allow parents to remove the student from that requirement. Students whose parents have waived the mask or face covering requirement will not be subjected to any harassment or discriminatory treatment, including, but not limited to, searching of physical premises, seclusion during school activities or exclusion from any school activity, ”said Ben Gibson. , State Board of Education, vice president at Friday’s emergency meeting.
“The highly contagious Delta variant continues to push Florida hospitals to the brink of collapse and also signals that our pediatric intensive care units are also filling up right now. I would just ask my colleagues across the aisle to stop trying to win or score political points and see this as a matter of public health and public education first, ”he said. Jones added.
“COVID-19 harassment” means any threatening, discriminatory, insulting or dehumanizing verbal, written or physical conduct that a student experiences in connection with, or as a result of, school district protocols for COVID-19, including masking requirements, the separation or isolation of students, or COVID-19 testing requirements, which have the effect of significantly interfering with a student’s educational performance, ”the rule states.
The meeting was scheduled a week after Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis ordered the department to find ways that school districts that require masks to offer parents other alternatives, saying they have the legal right to take decisions about the health and education of their children. .
In a statement from Anna Fusco, the president of the Broward Teachers Union said: “I am extremely upset and disappointed that the Florida Board of Education has voted to offer parents who protest the mask the choice to opt out or receive a good for sending their children to a private or charter school that does not require masks. Coupled with the state’s refusal to release $ 11 billion in federal funding for the recovery of COVID in our public schools, this is about ‘a thinly veiled attempt to erode and further dismantle Florida’s public education system. Beyond the obvious safety issue when children and teachers do not have to wear masks, these schools have no responsibility and do not provide the high quality education offered by public schools, and the losers are our children. Children who are in quarantine because they have been exposed or contracted COVID are losing valuable games. teaching years. “
DeSantis said in his executive order that the rules could include withholding money from school districts or other actions permitted by Florida law. At a press conference on Friday, he reiterated his general opposition to restrictions, such as lockdowns, business closures and mask warrants.
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“In terms of imposing restrictions. This is not the case in Florida. It’s harmful, it’s destructive. It doesn’t work, ”he said, saying Los Angeles County had experienced a winter surge despite all of its restrictions. “We truly believe that people know how to best assess their risk. We trust them to be able to make those decisions. We just want to make sure everyone has the information.
Two Florida school districts have decided to follow the recommendations of the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and require masks when they resume classes next week due to the dramatic increase in coronavirus infections.
Florida now leads the country in hospitalizations related to COVID-19.
The number of patients hospitalized for COVID-19 rose from 12,516 Thursday to 12,864, according to the US Department of Health and Human Services. Hospital data shows 2,680 of those patients required intensive care, using about 42% of the state’s intensive care beds, up from less than 20% they used two weeks ago.
The CDC said the number of new cases reported by the state took Florida’s 7-day average to a record high of 18,120.
School boards in Duval County in Jacksonville and Alachua County in Gainesville this week decided to require masks to be worn indoors, citing increased hospitalizations.
In South Florida, districts are still undecided on their mask guidelines.
And districts that don’t follow the governor’s decree restricting mask terms might have bigger problems.
“With the state council, we have the power to withhold state transfer funds or other tools in our toolkit to make sure school districts follow the law,” the vice president said. Gibson.
The Broward County School Board had voted to demand masks after hours of controversial debate which included a screaming game by angry anti-mask parents who set the masks on fire and held signs outside. The board reversed course on Monday for fear of losing funds, but said on Twitter on Wednesday that it was “awaiting advice” in light of the governor’s orders. A meeting is scheduled for Tuesday.
Miami-Dade County Public Schools have said they will decide next week what they will do for the next school year. Miami-Dade students return to class on August 23, five days later than Broward.
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