The state of Florida is now willing to pay for students to transfer from public to private schools if they encounter what the state deems to be “COVID-19 harassment”—for, among other reasons, not wearing a mask—after the Florida State Board of Education approved a rule change on Friday expanding access to a voucher program designed for victims of bullying.
Asking students to wear masks or socially distance are among the listed examples of the new “COVID-19 harassment” term, which also generally includes “any threatening, discriminatory, insulting, or dehumanizing verbal, written or physical conduct an individual student suffers” because of Covid protocols.
The board unanimously approved the emergency rule on Friday adding “COVID-19 harassment” to the list of eligible claims to receive a Hope Scholarship, alongside the likes of kidnapping, physical attack and sexual offenses.
The scholarship was created for bullying victims, granting access to state funding for a transfer to another public school or private school due to a bullying incident or other attack on a student.
What To Watch For
Public schools across Florida start their new sessions this month, with the first school districts welcoming back students on Monday.
“Unnecessarily isolating, quarantining, or subjecting children to physical COVID-19 constraints in schools poses a threat to developmental upbringing and should not occur absent a heightened showing of actual illness or serious risk of illness to other students,” the Board of Education said in a notice on the emergency rule.
The delta variant of coronavirus is causing rampant spread of Covid-19 in Florida, with the strain also leading to more severe infections in children, who remain ineligible for vaccinations if they are under the age of 12. Jacksonville, Florida, has set records recently for children being hospitalized with Covid-19, while cities like Palm Beach and St. Petersburg have also dealt with a trend of rising hospitalizations among children.
Florida has been setting new Covid hospitalization records for much of the past week, with Friday bringing yet another new high-water mark for hospitalizations in the state at 13,427. Despite the surge in cases, hospitalizations and deaths, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) has been unrelenting in his opposition to any new Covid restrictions in the state, and has brushed off concerns of a health crisis as “media hysteria.” Last week, he announced he would order all public schools in the state to adopt “mask-optional” policies, despite the American Academy of Pediatrics recommending masks for all children and school staff in the fall.