Florida education officials on Friday are holding an emergency meeting to discuss freeing up private-school vouchers for families that want to transfer their children out of public schools that impose mask mandates.
The last-minute meeting was scheduled after Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis ordered the State Board of Education to come up with ways to punish school districts that are expected to mandate masks in classrooms.
DeSantis, who received the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine in the spring, has been very vocal about his anti-mask stance, even as COVID-19 cases in his state continue to soar. There have been 12,000 coronavirus hospitalizations in Florida this week alone, shattering the previous record.
Florida is also the epicenter of the summer COVID-19 spike brought on by the highly transmissible delta variant. The strain has ripped through the state as new cases and hospital admissions have surpassed last year's summer surge.
Despite the increase, when it comes to masks in the classroom, DeSantis said he sees it as a violation of parental rights. He also has cited Florida's new Parents' Bill of Rights law that gives guardians the freedom to make decisions about their child's health and education.
While many of the details being hammered out by education officials over masking requirements remain foggy, multiple local media outlets have reported that parents would be allowed to apply for a Hope Scholarship, whose legislative intent was to allow students who are being bullied to transfer schools, when a school district's COVID-19 health protocols, including forced masking, pose a health or educational danger to a child.
DeSantis's office was mum on the financial impact of the proposed rule, how many students would get vouchers, or whether schools would be forced to accept them, the Miami Herald reported.
Florida state Sen. Gary Farmer, a Democrat, has lashed out at DeSantis's order to go after schools that are making students mask up.
"It is abundantly clear that the task set before you by Governor DeSantis is nothing more than an attempt to take advantage of our current public health crisis by siphoning even more money away from our public schools," the lawmaker wrote in a letter to Florida Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran.
Farmer also argued that if Florida education officials go along with the plan to use the Hope Scholarship, it will be "unconstitutional and illegal."
Calls to DeSantis's office for comment by the Washington Examiner were not immediately returned.
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Original Author: Barnini Chakraborty