TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — The Florida Board of Education decided Friday to give parents a voucher to move their children to a private or charter school to avoid mask mandates, other COVID-19 restrictions, and bullying resulting from such. But for parents, the new rule opened up another avenue of choice as well.
The unanimous vote in favor of the school choice addition came during an emergency meeting that was held virtually and allowed 15 minutes of public comment from callers. The discussion of the rule by board members centered around harassment or bullying based on COVID-19 rules or requirements.
Callers into the meeting expressed a wide range of opinions on the issue, but a few asked if the policy could work in reverse. Specifically, several parents asked if the HOPE scholarship money could be used to transfer children from schools that don't require masks or have strict protocols in place to a school that does have such rules in place.
The Board of Education's counsel indicated that would be allowed under the new rule.
Money for the transfer of students comes from the Hope Scholarship program, which was designed to help relocated bullied children. The program is funded through automotive fees, the Board said Friday.
Read the full rule:
Members of the board mentioned the new rule is in compliance with new guidelines from the Department of Education and Health that were issued Friday morning. Those rules set out how schools should handle COVID-19 positive students, exposure by other students, and masks. Included in the guidelines was a non-discrimination clause dealing with mask and face coverings due to COVID.
The guidelines also said schools may wear masks or facial coverings as a mitigation measure. However, the school must allow for a parent or legal guardian to opt out the student from wearing a face-covering or mask. Failure to permit an opt-out could lead to loss of funding by the state.
At least four districts -- Alachua, Leon, Broward, and Duval counties -- have pushed back against DeSantis' order. Most, however, are staying the course and keeping masking optional, for now.
DeSantis has remained defiant-- even in the face of pressure from the White House. He reaffirmed Wednesday that putting parents in charge of masking was the right call.
"Let me tell you this, if you're coming after the rights of parents in Florida, I'm standing in your way," DeSantis said. "I'm not going to let you get away with it."
Most Florida schools resume classes on Aug. 10.
The board also passed an attendance rule Friday dealing with missing classes due to COVID-19. That full rule can be seen below.