TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WTXL) — Leon County Schools says it needs more time to analyze the new COVID-19 rules issued by Florida's new Surgeon General, Dr. Joseph Ladapo, this week before making any changes to the district's current mask and quarantine requirements.
The district received a letter from the Florida Department of Education on Thursday, September 23, advising LCS of the DOE's new emergency rule revising the “Protocols for Controlling COVID-19 in School Settings” and to give the district "one more opportunity to come into compliance with the requirements established by the Department of Health."
The letter was signed by Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran and can be read in full below.
Dr. Ladapo made the changes a day after Governor Ron DeSantis announced his appointment. Florida students who are exposed to COVID-19 won't have to quarantine from school if they're not showing symptoms of the virus, according to a new emergency rule issued by the state's surgeon general on Wednesday. Quarantining students exposed to individuals with COVID-19 will now be at the discretion of parents.
In the letter, Corcoran requests LCS provide a written response by 5:00 p.m. on September 24, 2021, documenting how the district will comply with the new portion of the Department of Health’s "Emergency Rule 64DER21-15, that continues to give parents or legal guardians the sole discretion to opt a student out from a mask" mandate.
As I have done before, if you fail to document full compliance, I intend to recommend to the State Board of Education that the Department of Education withhold funds in an amount equal to the salaries for all members of the School Board, as well as other sanctions authorized by law, for the period during which the district has been out of compliance.
-Richard Corcoran, Florida Education Commissioner
Leon County Schools responded Friday, September 24, that the district believes it is "at all times in compliance with the Prior DOH Rule because we allowed parents of Pre-K through 8th-grade students to opt their children out of the mask of face-covering requirement by submitting medical documentation (and allowed parents of high school students to do so for any reason)."
We received your letter at 12:55 PM yesterday. Twenty nine hours is not a sufficient amount of time for us to analyze the New DOH Rule, develop policies and present them for consideration to the full School Board. As you know, the School Board is subject to the Government in the Sunshine Law and can only discuss school business at a noticed public meeting at which members of the public will be allowed to provide input. Accordingly, we respectfully request that you extend the date for us to provide you a written response documenting how our district will comply with the mask portion of the New DOH Rule until 5:00 PM on Friday, October 1, 2021.
-Leon County Schools
LCS also stated that the addition in the New DOH Rule of the language “at the parent or legal guardian’s sole discretion," not included in the Prior DOH Rule, shows that the district was at all times in compliance with the Prior DOH Rule.
The New DOH Rule does not mandate implementation procedures that school districts must follow. LCS says determining how to implement the new rules will involve some level of policy decisions that will need to be presented to the full School Board, which will happen next week.
- Was this rule properly enacted as an emergency rule; and
- Was this a valid use of their rule-making authority?
Cole argues no for both.
"Because it goes way beyond what the department of health should be doing," Cole said. "They should only be issuing rules that control COVID-19. This rule does not control COVID-19. It does the exact opposite."
Cole said his law office filed a petition in the third district court of appeals on behalf of the Miami-Dade School District because he fears a spontaneous emergency rule could happen again.
LCS plans to address the issue publicly on Monday, September 27, 2021.