TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Florida’s Board of Education has approved an emergency rule to allow private school vouchers if parents feel their children are being harassed by a school district’s COVID-19 safety policies, including requirements to wear masks.
The parents could request the vouchers under provisions normally used to protect children who are being bullied.
The meeting was scheduled a week after Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis ordered the department to come up with ways of having school districts that mandate mask-wearing provide other alternatives for parents, saying they had the legal right to make decisions about their children’s health and education.
After the School Board of Broward County voted to implement a face mask mandate, DeSantis issued his July 30 executive order to ban the policy at all of the state’s public schools. Despite this and threats of losing state funding, the challenges of the new surge in COVID cases are prompting some school districts to push for the mandates.
The State Board of Education’s response was to schedule an emergency meeting at 11 a.m., on Friday to consider emergency rules. The priority wasn’t the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommendation to deal with the new Delta variant’s threat of infection to both the vaccinated and the unvaccinated — but to protect “parents’ freedom to choose.”
“It is abundantly clear that the task set before you by Governor DeSantis is nothing more than an attempt to take advantage of our current public health crisis by siphoning even more money away from our public schools,” Florida Sen. Gary Farmer wrote in a letter Thursday to Florida’s Commissioner of Education Richard Corcoran.
According to the emergency meeting notice, some of the State Board of Education members agreed that the disagreements over face mask mandates at schools presented “the potential for student learning loss and educational disruption with schools starting next week,” and “an immediate danger to the public health, safety, and welfare of students.”
Some of the members wanted to provide parents with a choice through the state’s Hope Scholarship program, which offers victims of bullying in public schools access to private education. Farmer, a Democrat from Lighthouse Point, previously argued that if the State Board of Education created such a state program during the emergency meeting it would be “unconstitutional and illegal.”
The State Board of Education’s seven members are Tom Grady, the chair; Benjamin Gibson, the vice-chair; Monesia Brown, Marva Johnson, a Parkland victim’s father Ryan Petty, Andy Tuck, and Joe York.
The Broward County Public School Board will meet on Tuesday to discuss mask usage at their schools and whether they will fight against DeSantis’ order, while officials from Miami-Dade County Public Schools say they are reviewing their policy.
Related social media
Ohmygawd!!! Look at this representatives Facebook post. #teacher #maskup #covid #florida #missouri♬ original sound - Jess Piper
We applaud the school boards of Alachua and Duval County for listening to and following the advice of the medical professionals in their communities in order to ensure the safety of their students and staff. pic.twitter.com/Ye6aWLk72Z— Florida Education Association (@FloridaEA) August 4, 2021
Thank you @GovRonDeSantis for standing up for parental choice! Looking forward to the State Board of Education, @richardcorcoran, and @EducationFL taking the necessary steps to implement this Executive Order. https://t.co/CGaHygSMK8— Ben Gibson (@BenGibson) July 31, 2021
FLDOE is using the Covid crisis as yet another opportunity to defund neighborhood public schools & promote unaccountable private & religious schools. Everyone’s top concern should be protecting the safety & wellbeing of Florida’s students, not playing politics w/school funding.— Andrew Spar (@andrewsparfea) August 5, 2021
Florida Ag Commissioner @NikkiFriedFL encouraging districts to violate the governor’s new order threatening to withhold money from those who install mask mandates: “School boards — stand up. Do what is right. We will get your back.” pic.twitter.com/Ac1QD28Umv— Forrest Saunders (@FBSaunders) August 5, 2021
Local 10 News Reporters Hatzel Vela and Liane Morejon contributed to this report.