Parents in the state now are allowed to access vouchers for private schools if they believe pandemic-related rules are “a health or educational danger to their child,” according to the state agency, local media outlets reported.
They could request vouchers under provisions that are generally used to protect children who believe they’re being bullied.
“‘COVID-19 harassment’ means any threatening, discriminatory, insulting, or dehumanizing verbal, written or physical conduct an individual student suffers in relation to, 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, that have the effect of substantially interfering with a student’s educational performance,” says the new emergency rule around vouchers.
Board member Ben Gibson said that if school districts don’t comply, the Board of Education could hold up the transfer of state money.
“We’re not going to hurt kids. We’re not going to pull money that’s going to hurt kids in any way,” he said, reported local media, adding: “If a parent wants their child to wear a mask at school, they should have that right. If a parent doesn’t want their child to wear a mask at school, they should have that right.”
Florida state officials have been at odds with federal authorities over masking amid the COVID-19 pandemic, coming after the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommended late last month that all children regardless of whether they’ve been vaccinated or not should wear masks.
Several Florida school districts so far have decided to comply with the CDC’s recommendations.
Duval County said on Thursday that it will require any student not wearing a mask inside to opt-out of the district’s policies, and Alachua County authorities voted to mandate that students wear masks for the first two weeks of class.
Teachers’ unions, including the Florida Education Association, praised the counties’ decisions, claiming that “every county should be empowered to make decisions on how best to keep their students safe in consultation with local health experts and based on the unique needs and circumstances in their area.”
But Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Republican with his sights on the 2024 presidential election, issued an executive order stipulating that parents are the ones who should decide whether their children need to wear masks in schools. School boards who refuse to comply with DeSantis’s order would face a loss of funding from the state.
“I want to empower parents to be able to make the best decisions they can for the well-being of their children,” DeSantis said before adding that parents are the best ones who can evaluate “the effect that this would have on their children.”