Florida Board of Education Leaders Tie Mask Wearing To ‘Harassment’
TALLAHASSEE – Students subjected to the “harassment” of having to wear masks in class would be eligible to transfer at taxpayer expense into another public or private school under an emergency rule adopted Friday by the state Board of Education.
The move is the latest thrust by Gov. Ron DeSantis’ administration against mask mandates endorsed by several Florida school districts on the eve of the start of school, amid one of the nation’s biggest surge in new Covid-19 cases and hospitalizations.
“You can’t have more local control than control by a parent,” said Tom Grady, Board chair, during an hour-long, emergency phone meeting Friday.
Hope Scholarships, which could be made available to parents wanting to keep their kids free of face coverings in mask-required districts, are available to students who have been assaulted or face harassment, hazing or bullying in their schools.
But the rule adopted by the board would extend those scholarships “to instances where a child has been subjected to Covid-19 harassment.” They “will provide parents another means to protect the health and education of their child.”
The scholarships allow students to transfer to another public school or attend a private school at taxpayer expense. Created in 2018, they’re among several private school voucher programs which have proliferated in the more than 20 years Florida has been under Republican leadership.
The rule defines “Covid-19 harassment,” as “threatening, discriminatory, insulting or dehumanizing verbal, written or physical conduct” that a student could face, “including masking requirements, the separation or isolation of students, or Covid-19 testing requirements.”
A separate rule released Friday by the Florida Department of Health specifically demands that districts provide an “opt-out” for parents, so that their students would not have to wear masks in class.
The DOH rule is designed to blunt the approach taken by Broward, Duval and Alachua counties, who this week took action intended to require mask-wearing by students when they return to class.
DeSantis, however, appears intent on backing his vow to allow only optional mask-wearing in counties. Under an executive order the governor signed last week, counties that require masks could face a loss of state funding.
“In Florida, there will be no lockdowns, there will be no school closures, there will be no restrictions and no mandates in the state of Florida,” DeSantis said in announcing his stance last Friday in Fort Myers, at a campaign-like rally, where no one appeared masked.