Florida will pay for parents to transfer their children to a new school if the students experience “Covid-19 harassment” over face mask requirements, according to a new rule from the Florida Board of Education.
Parents may apply for a voucher to transfer their kids to a private school in “instances where a child has been subjected to COVID-19 harassment.” The state said it “will provide parents another means to protect the health and education of their child by moving their child to another school,” according to the rule.
State education and health officials came up with the emergency rule in response to Republican Governor Ron DeSantis’ executive order last week banning local school districts from having mask mandates. The order cited Florida’s Parents’ Bill of Rights and directed the state’s health and education departments to design and implement rules to “protect parents’ freedom to choose whether their children wear masks.”
The state education board unanimously approved the rule on Friday.
The transfer voucher will come in the form of a Hope Scholarship, intended to protect students from bullying. The rule adds “Covid-19 harassment” as a prohibited form of discrimination, defining it as “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, opportunities or benefits.”
“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 an actual illness or serious risk of illness to other students,” the rule adds.
A public school’s failure to comply with the new rule could result in state funds being delayed.
DeSantis on Friday reiterated that he is not looking to reimplement lockdown measures for Florida despite the state’s recent surge in coronavirus cases, saying lockdown measures do not work and are in fact “destructive.”
“In terms of imposing any restrictions, that’s not happening in Florida. It’s harmful. It’s destructive. It does not work,” DeSantis said at a press conference. “We really believe that individuals know how to best assess their risks. We trust them to be able to make those decisions. We just want to make sure everybody has information.”
DeSantis’ ban on mask mandates came a day after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued new guidance recommending that all students, teachers, and other staff in K-12 schools wear face masks when the new school year starts this fall.
The Florida Education Association criticized the order, saying in a statement that “decisions on health and safety will not come in one-size-fits-all solutions.”
Former President Donald Trump also condemned the CDC guidance, declaring, “we won’t go back.”
“We won’t mask our children. Joe Biden and his Administration learned nothing from the last year. Brave Americans learned how to safely and responsibly live and fight back,” the 45th president said.
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