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Florida, School Vouchers, and “COVID Harassment”

August 8, 2021

Florida continues to break records for the number of COVID cases in the state. NBC News reports that on Frida, August 06, 2021, Florida had 23,903 new COVID cases IN ONE DAY. Jacksonville.com reports the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) stat that 507 Floridians have died in the past week. On Friday morning, August 06, 2021, Jacksonville’s Wolfson Children’s Hospital had admitted 12 children with COVID, three of whom were in intensive care. An unvaccinated 16-year-old with no underlying conditions died of COVID at Wolfson on Thursday, August 05, 2021.

According to HealthData.gov, on August 06, 2021, Florida had 50 children hospitalized with confirmed COVID, raising the total to 168.

If the total is 168, with 50 of those children being hospitalized just one day prior, and the pandemic has been around for a year and a half, this means that serious COVID– COVID that lands children in the hospital (or worse)– is an imminent threat.

Even so, the governor of Florida, Ron DeSantis, wants no masks in Florida’s public schools– and the Florida State Board of Education has found a way to do his bidding and allow students to dodge mask mandates in any public school district that defies DeSantis’ no-mask dictate:

“COVID harrassment.”

From the August 06, 2021, News4Jax.com:

DeSantis had ordered the state education department to come up with ways to pressure school districts to not create mask mandates and punish them if they do. He said the rules could include withholding money from school districts or other actions allowed under Florida law.

The board then invoked an existing law meant to protect children against bullying, adding “COVID-19 harassment” as a prohibited form of discrimination. It defined this as “any threatening, discriminatory, insulting, or dehumanizing verbal, written or physical conduct’’ students suffer as a result of COVID-19 protocols such as mask or testing requirements and isolation measures that “have the effect of substantially interfering with a student’s educational performance.”

At a news conference Friday, DeSantis reiterated his general opposition to restrictions, such as lockdowns, business closures and mask mandates.

“In terms of imposing any restrictions, that’s not happening in Florida. It’s harmful, it’s destructive. It does not work,’’ he said, noting that Los Angeles County had a winter surge despite all its restrictions. …

DeSantis has repeatedly claimed there was little difference in COVID-19 cases between schools with and without mask mandates, but at least one study of Florida school districts last year fall challenges that claim.

A CDC review of data from the Florida Department of Health and other state sources found schools without mask mandates had 42% more cases per 100,000 students.

According to the “Notice of Emergency Rule” by the Florida Department of Education and Florida State Board of Education, the “emergency” is not that the COVID Delta variant has not only made Florida a premier COVID hotspot in general but also a hotspot for increasing numbers of children hospitalized for COVID. No, no. The “emergency” is that something must be done to placate a governor who insists that people have a right to disregard safety protocols in the face of this pandemic just as he does. That’s the emergency,” the twisted nature of which is evident throughout the document.

Consider this first paragraph. In speaking of “emergency, one does not expect that by paragraph’s end, what is needed to address “an immediate danger to the public health, safety or welfare” is to provide a means to enable the public to escape from protocols that could directly confront Florida’s obvious and growing ravaging by the Delta variant:

SPECIFIC REASONS FOR FINDING AN IMMEDIATE DANGER TO THE PUBLIC HEALTH, SAFETY OR WELFARE: Given the recent rise in COVID-19 infections, largely driven by the spread of the delta variant, and the impending start to the 2021-2022 school year, the Florida Department of Education has been working to assist the Florida Department of Health in the development of minimum protocols governing the control of COVID-19 in public schools. As public school districts seek to impose new COVID-19 restrictions on students, emergency rulemaking is necessary here to protect the rights of students and their parents or guardians.

In other words, *in the name of protecting the rights of some students and their parents and guardians, we are willing to run roughshod over others.*

From the August 06, 2021, Washington Post:

The Florida state school board did not respond to a woman who spoke in the public comments section of the meeting to ask whether the vouchers would be available for students who want mask mandates and attend districts that do not require them.

Given the rise in COVID hospitalizations among children in Florida, this latter stance would make more sense. But no. Instead, Florida’s state school board offers this nonsense justification, as if “a heightened showing of actual illness or serious risk of illness to other students” is not already demonstrating itself in increasing COVID-induced, pediatric hospitalization:

Because of the importance of in-person learning to educational, social, emotional and mental well-being, it is important to protect parents’ right to make health care decisions for their minor children at school and provide in-person education for their children. 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.

Again, the beginning of the paragraph seems to justify a mask mandate, but then comes the DeSantis-placating logic-twist.

But sense is not the name of the game for DeSantis.

Defying sense is.

As for enabling Florida parents to move their children to private schools in order to escape mask mandates in public schools, there is no guarantee that a private school will not change its stance on mask usage. There is also no guarantee that a school voucher will readily translate into admission at any given private school. The private schools have no obligation to make space for all who wish to enroll under the Florida school board’s emergency order.

There is no guarantee that a school voucher student will be admitted to a private school before the school year begins, or that there will not be other difficulties introduced by a change in schools (i.e., transportation issues, additional fees, expected parental commitments, more stringent academic or behavioral expectations, availability of auxiliary services, availability of extracurricular activities, admission to sports teams or clubs).

If the private school requires the voucher student to quarantine, or to take a COVID test, despite the student not being required to mask, is this also harrassment?

According to the Florida school board’s emergency rule, the answer is yes:

“COVID-19 harassment” means any threatening, discriminatory, insulting, or dehumanizing verbal, written or physical conduct an individual student suffers in relation to, or as a result of, school district protocols for COVID-19, including masking requirements, the separation or isolation of students, or COVID-19 testing requirements, that have the effect of substantially interfering with a student’s educational performance, opportunities or benefits.

So, what then? Another voucher to escape from the “COVID harrassment” of the first?

COVID harrassment happens when COVID is allowed to ravage a state because its governor is more interested in politcal posturing than in public welfare.

Masking is not harrassment. Masking is a hassle. Masking is incovenient. But you know what actually does “have the effect of substantially interfering with a student’s educational performance, opportunities or benefits“?

COVID-induced hospitalization.

Delta Variant

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