Jacksonville — Florida’s Board of Education unanimously passed two rules regarding student harassment and attendance as they relate to COVID-19 protocols.
Scheduled a week after Governor Ron DeSantis rejected a mask-mandate for Florida’s school children, Chairman Tom Grady, along with his board members, publicly voted to allow students who suffer “COVID-19 harassment” the option to receive Hope Scholarship funding to attend a different school.
Initiated in 2018, Hope Scholarships are designed to protect students subjected to battery, harassment, hazing, bullying, kidnapping, assault, robbery, sexual offenses, battery, threat and/or intimidation. Students from kindergarten to 12th grade, who receive the scholarship funds, may transfer to a school in their district, or a private school that accepts scholarship students, or they can go to a school in a completely different district.
The Board’s General Counsel Matt Mears assured the public that Hope Scholarship transfer procedures provide parents the ability to impact the educational and health options of those suffering harassment because of COVID. Issues, he says that “substantially interfere with a student’s educational performance.”
Mears defined harassment as “any threatening, discriminatory, insulting, or dehumanizing verbal, written, or physical conduct a student suffers in relation to or as a result of school district protocols for COVID, including face coverings, the separation of students, and COVID19 testing requirements.”
Mears confirmed that Hope Scholarship funding comes from eligible sales tax contributions from the purchase of a motor vehicle.
“Hope Scholarship money is not money that was appropriated to districts,” he said. “When people buy a car, they can elect to donate money to the Hope Scholarship. Those funds are then made available to help parents get their child out of a situation that is100 percent in keeping with the right of a parent to direct the education and health of their child.”
Student attendance was also on the docket. In most cases, students are required to be present at school to get credit for attendance. However, because of COVID, as long as students are working remotely with the school’s approved instructional program, they will be considered present.
“To continue their education and get credit, students must have access to class assignments, class materials, and instructors to assist students with the class assignments,” continued Mears. “The aim is to avoid learning loss for students in quarantine so the students will not be disadvantaged or will not have a learning loss.”
The Duval County School Board is allowing parents to submit paperwork if they would like their children to opt-out of the County’s mask mandate.
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