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Florida BOE to hold emergency meeting on masks in school

Posted at 12:41 PM, Aug 05, 2021
and last updated 2021-08-06 09:38:20-04

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WTXL) — Florida's State Board of Education will hold an emergency meeting Friday to consider Emergency Rules 6AER21-01, Pupil Attendance Records for COVID-19 and 6AER21-02, COVID-19 Hope Scholarship Transfer Procedures, also known by Governor Ron DeSantis' opposition to mask mandates in public schools.

In essence, it would offer students who attend schools requiring they wear masks for the upcoming school year scholarships to attend private schools that don't have mask mandates. The scholarships are typically reserved for victims of bullying.

On Tuesday, Leon County Schools Superintendent Rocky Hanna sent a letter to Governor Ron DeSantis and Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran asking for flexibility to issue a temporary masks requirement for kindergarten through eighth-grade students.

In the letter, Hanna expressed concerns about the number of children returning to in-person learning as Florida COVID-19 hospitalizations increase daily.

As LCS waits for an official response from the governor's office, the Department of Education tells ABC 27:

"Parents know what’s best for their children and should be empowered to make their own choices with regards to masks. At this time, additional information will be forthcoming once the Florida Department of Education collaborates with the Florida Department of Health to satisfy the requirements of the Emergency Order." -Brett Tubbs

Christina Pushaw, a spokeswoman for DeSantis told ABC 27 the rules are being finalized this week and pursuant to Executive Order 21-175, the Florida Department of Health will enter rulemaking in collaboration with the Florida Department of Education to protect parents’ freedom to choose whether their children wear masks.

"We are finalizing health and education emergency rules this week that do not prohibit masks in schools but will require parents to have the right to opt their children out. School districts will be expected to allow parents to make this choice."

"One final point the Governor has made many times, and I’d reiterate in response to the Superintendent’s claim: there is no empirical evidence to support the assertion that mandating children to wear face coverings in schools would have any impact on the county’s positivity rate. Last year, Florida schools were open the whole academic year. We did not see a significant difference in COVID spread when comparing districts that had mask mandates versus those that were mask optional."

The two emergency rules address attendance and the Hope Scholarship to provide additional flexibility in light of health protocols issued by the Department of Health and implemented by school districts when school begins as soon as next week, in some school districts.

  • Emergency Rule 6AER21-01, Pupil Attendance Records, will provide criteria to avoid learning loss and consider a student in attendance, when under a “stay-home” directive due to COVID-19.
  • Emergency Rule 6AER21-02, COVID-19 Hope Scholarship Transfer Procedures, 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. 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 creates an immediate danger to the public health, safety and welfare of students and requires emergency action.

The procedure for this emergency meeting is fair under the circumstances because the notice was posted as soon as possible and notice of the meeting was widely circulated.

Andrew Spar, the president of the Florida Education Association said, "Regarding proposed Emergency Rule 6AER21-02, this is ridiculous. Judging from its new proposed rule, the state Department of Education sees not a public health emergency, but a mask emergency."

The agenda will be posted prior to the meeting on the Department’s website at http://www.fldoe.org/policy/stateboard-of-edu/meetings.