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Florida Ed Board Approves Emergency Rules On Attendance, Student COVID Transfers

Desks and chairs in a classroom.
Thomas Favre-Bulle
flickr.com/ https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/2.0/

Students will still be counted as present if they’re at home quarantining, and parents can opt to send their kids to other schools if they’re bullied over COVID-19.

Florida’s State Board of Education approved two emergency rules related to the ongoing pandemic, further riling up worried parents who are preparing to send their kids back to school classrooms this month.

The emergency rules are a response to Governor Ron DeSantis’ executive order that prevents public schools from mandating students wear masks. The first rule involves how students will be counted for attendance: kids who must quarantine due to coronavirus exposure or infection will be counted present if they have to learn at home.

“The aim is to avoid learning loss for any students who are temporarily quarantined so that the students will not be disadvantaged," said Florida Department of Education General Counsel Matt Mears.

Parent comments turned to concerns over HOW quarantined students would learn at home. Monroe County School Board member Sue Waltanski notes many districts, like hers, dropped their hybrid remote learning programs.

“This year those were canceled and we were told kids had to learn through full virtual or in-person so I am wondering if this rule would alleviate that requirement and allow us to go back to our innovative learning program which was used to teach kids in quarantine…I hope it does," Waltanski said.

Families may still have access to the state’s Florida Virtual School and district-run virtual schools, but students cannot just pop in and out of those programs.

Other parents say they don’t want their kids quarantined at all, and during the phone hearing, Fort Lauderdale resident Chris Nelson denied COVID-19 is real.

"…We know neither of these things have been isolated. This is a documented fact," he said, only to be cut off by Board Chairman Tom Grady.

The virus HAS been isolated. It is real, and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is supplying strains of it to infectious disease researchers.

The second rule now in effect would allow students who are bullied over COVID to transfer to other schools using the state’s HOPE scholarship voucher. Some parents argue the rule is irresponsible and on the wrong side of public health. Others say it doesn’t go far enough. Dr. Hajar Kadivar, a physician in Pinellas County, says the rule is problematic for other reasons:

“I am concerned about the use of harassment. Medical protocol is not harassment. Public health is not harassment," she said.

Mears notes the rule would also apply to families whose kids are bullied for wearing masks. Students can transfer to another public school or private school.

Following DeSantis’ recent executive order preventing districts from mandating students wear masks, some districts are publicly considering challenging the order, some are considering defying it all together, and others have moved ahead with different mandates—like requiring staff and teachers to wear masks.

Follow @HatterLynn

Lynn Hatter is a Florida A&M University graduate with a bachelor’s degree in journalism. Lynn has served as reporter/producer for WFSU since 2007 with education and health care issues as her key coverage areas.  She is an award-winning member of the Capital Press Corps and has participated in the NPR Kaiser Health News Reporting Partnership and NPR Education Initiative. 

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