Florida will offer school vouchers in cases of "COVID-19 harassment"

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Florida's Board of Education on Friday unanimously approved an emergency rule that will allow parents to obtain vouchers to move their children to another school if they perceive any type of "COVID-19 harassment" against their child as related to mask or testing mandates, the Tampa Bay Times reports.

Why it matters: Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) has been vocal about giving parents the right to choose whether their children wear masks in schools. The rule was crafted by his administration after he pushed the state's education department to discourage school districts from enforcing mask mandates.

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  • The CDC has urged students, faculty and staff to wear masks in schools even if they are vaccinated.

Details: Under this new rule, which went into effect immediately, parents can apply for a Hope scholarship if a "school district’s COVID-19 health protocols, including masking, pose a health or educational danger to their child."

  • The approved definition of "COVID-19 harassment" covers "any threatening, discriminatory, insulting, or dehumanizing verbal, written or physical conduct an individual student suffers in relation to, or as a result of, school districts protocols for COVID-19, including masking requirement, the separation or isolation of students, or COVID-19 testing requirements."

  • Some Democrats have argued that it violates the intent behind Hope scholarships, which are meant to offer vouchers to students facing bullying or harassment.

  • But State Board of Education vice chair Ben Gibson claimed the state has the authority to expand the definition of harassment.

  • "The rule is narrowly tailored, and it aligns with the statute creating the Hope scholarship, and the board has the absolute authority to define harassment further, which we’ve done," Gibson said during a conference call.

The big picture: Florida leads the United States in COVID-related hospitalizations. DeSantis has blamed it on a "seasonal pattern" and "media hysteria."

  • Education Secretary Miguel Cardona is warning Americans not to let "politicization" get in the way of efforts to safely reopen schools. He has specifically called out Florida and Texas, both of which bar public officials from enforcing mask mandates.

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