Florida doctors, teachers call on Gov. DeSantis to reverse order blocking COVID mandates in schools

ORLANDO, Fla. — With students in Florida set to return to school next week, state agencies are scrambling to clarify what districts can and can’t do while following an order from the governor prohibiting mandates.

The Florida Department of Health issued an order Friday stating that students “may wear masks” but that the school “must allow for a parent or guardian to opt-out” from wearing a face covering.

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At the same time, the Florida Board of Education held an emergency meeting to consider two rules regarding COVID case management.

The first rule would allow a student to be counted as in attendance if they’re in home quarantine, provided the school offers virtual instruction.

Parents on the call reminded the board that some counties canceled their virtual options for the upcoming school year, forcing some students to choose full virtual or in-person learning.

The board didn’t have an answer for those concerns, but still approved the rule.

The second rule addressed what the board referred to as ”COVID-19 harassment” and would allow parents access to vouchers to transfer their kids to another school if they’re being bullied by mask rules.

READ: Plan for COVID-19 vaccine booster shot could be ready by September

The rule would allow students to transfer to a private school, another school in their district, or to another district altogether if they feel the student is being subjected to “COVID-19 related harassment.”

The rule, which was approved unanimously and went into effect immediately, opens taxpayer funded scholarships for students to leave a school if they feel harassed by mask rules.

In an afternoon ZOOM call, local doctors and teachers said the policies put politics ahead of health. However, Gov. DeSantis called the move a win for parental rights.

“Obviously when you start talking about schools, we led on that’s a huge problem if you’re not letting kids go to school,” Gov. DeSantis said.

READ: Here are the COVID-19 protocols for students, staff in Central Florida as new school year begins

Last year, more than 450 kids, including more than 130 in Central Florida, used the Hope Scholarship to transfer schools to get away from bullying.

It’s unclear how many more kids the program can accept before it runs out of funds or has to turn kids away.