What is ‘COVID-19 Harassment’? FL Board of Ed to vote on new rule within hours

By: - August 6, 2021 10:55 am
high school classroom, school, education

Classroom. Credit: Pixabay.

The Florida Board of Education within hours will be voting on whether to allow students to transfer to private schools if their families disapprove of COVID-19 safety measures at public schools.

As part of the discussion, the board has created a new proposed rule,  called “COVID-19 harassment.”

And it is largely about masks at public schools.

Here is the gist from the language in the rule:

“’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…”

“A school district must timely notify a parent of the Hope Scholarship program and provide the parent with a completed Hope Scholarship Notification Form…when a parent reports COVID-19 Harassment”

This is different than what’s been going on in the past regarding Hope scholarships in Florida.

Those taxpayer-funded scholarships are for students who have experienced bullying, harassment, assault, or were hurt in other ways.

So the proposed rule would expand the current requirements to allow mask-related issues.

A different rule in consideration within hours is about school attendance policy and what to do if a student has to quarantine at home.

The mask conversation reignites a Florida Constitutional question about which entity has more authority over Florida’s schools — the state or local school boards.

Back in 2020, state officials were sued by the Florida Education Association on the reopening of Florida schools during the COVID pandemic.

Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran signed a controversial emergency order on July 6, 2020, which stated that “upon reopening in August, all school boards and charter school governing boards must open brick and mortar schools at least five days per week for all students.” Just like in the recent executive order, state funding was on the line for districts that did not comply.

But the FEA lawsuit claimed that the 2020 emergency order overstepped the local authority of districts to operate schools. The Florida Constitution promises students the right to a “safe, secure” education, and  “the school board shall operate, control and supervise all free public schools within the school district.”

Eventually, the FEA voluntarily dismissed the lawsuit, and the constitutional quandary was never fully answered: if there is a conflict between local school boards and state officials on how schools should operate during a pandemic, which entity has the ultimate authority?

Clarification: Families who apply for the Hope scholarship could transfer their children to a private school, a public school within the same district or another district if there’s room.

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Danielle J. Brown
Danielle J. Brown

Danielle J. Brown is a 2018 graduate of Florida State University. She has served as an editorial intern for International Program’s annual magazine and Rowland Publishing. She was born and raised in Tallahassee and reviews community theater productions for the Tallahassee Democrat.