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Florida Approves School Vouchers In Districts Requiring Masks

 Francesca Anacleto, 12, receives her first Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine shot from nurse Jorge Tase on Aug. 4, 2021, in Miami Beach.
Francesca Anacleto, 12, receives her first Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine shot from nurse Jorge Tase on Aug. 4, 2021, in Miami Beach.

Florida’s Board of Education has approved an emergency rule to allow private school vouchers to parents who say their school district’s mask-wearing mandates amount to child harassment.

COVID-19 safety policies include requirements to wear masks.

The Board of Education approved a change to the Hope Scholarship program during the emergency meeting.

The program provides funding for K through twelve public school students to transfer to a private school if they are subjected to harassment or bullying.

Education officials extended this definition to what it calls COVID-19 harassment. Parents could say a mask mandate in schools falls under this category.

Board vice chairman Ben Gibson defended the move.

“I’ve seen reports that we don’t have the authority to do this. I think the rule is narrowly tailored, it aligns to the statute that created the HOPE scholarship," Gibson said. "And the board has absolute authority to define harassment further, which we’ve done.”

The meeting was scheduled a week after Gov. Ron DeSantis ordered the department to come up with ways to pressure school districts not to impose mask mandates, saying they had the legal right to make decisions about their children’s health and education.

The measures come as students prepare to begin a new school year amid a surge in COVID-19 cases.

information from WUSF staff and WFSU reporter Lynn Hatter contributed to this report.

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