Proposal to let students use bullying scholarship to transfer schools due to mask policies passes

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — A proposal to modify a scholarship program established to help students who are being bullied in school was approved on Friday to allow students to transfer schools or enroll in a private school, depending on mask requirements or other COVID-19 rules.

On Friday, the Florida Board of Education held an emergency meeting to discuss changes to the Hope Scholarship program. The Hope Scholarship was established by the Florida legislature in 2017 to provide money so students who are being bullied can enroll in a private school or transfer to another school.

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Under the approved change, parents would be allowed to move a student to another school, including a private school, depending on mask rules, which means parents could move if a school chooses not to mask or if a school chooses to mandate masks.

“Provides parents with a mechanism to transfer a child to a private school or another school district under a Hope Scholarship when a school district’s COVID-19 health protocols, including masking, pose a health or educational danger to their child,” wrote the Department of Education in the Florida Administrative Register.

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“Health protocols for schools including masking, will be addressed by the Department of Health. The agency finds that the potential for student learning loss and educational disruption with schools starting next week, creates an immediate danger to the public health, safety and welfare of students and requires emergency action.”

The meeting came just days after Gov. Ron DeSantis issued an executive order denying school boards the authority to implement mask mandates on school grounds.

READ: OCPS to require employees, visitors to wear face masks while indoors

“This scholarship was designed to help those students who are being bullied at school,” said Senator Vic Torres (D – Orlando). “There were 393 kids in this program last year, so you’re now trying to figure out is there going to be enough money.”

The scholarship is paid for by people who choose to divert up to $105 of their state motor vehicle purchase tax into the program. In 2019-20 there were 436 kids in the program. During the last school year (2020-21) there were 452 kids on the scholarship with 37 in Orange County, 23 in Seminole, 20 in Volusia, 22 in Marion, and 17 in Lake.