The Florida Department of Health has issued a new emergency rule declaring that parents now have a choice whether to quarantine a child who has been exposed to COVID-19 and is not showing symptoms. A quarantine is no longer mandatory.
In addition, in a display of escalating tension between the feds and the state of Florida, the U.S. Department of Education has started awarding state-penalized school districts funding from an initiative called Project SAFE. The funds are meant to protect the districts that are mandating protocols to prevent the spread of COVID-19 but are penalized by Florida for doing so.
The emergency rule announced by Gov. Ron DeSantis on Thursday states, “Because of the importance of in-person learning to educational, social, emotional, and mental health and welfare, removing students from the classroom for lengthy quarantines should be limited. Under Florida law, parents and legal guardians have a fundamental right to direct the upbringing, education, healthcare, and mental health of their minor children and have the right to make healthcare decisions for their minor children.”
The Monroe County School District released a response on Friday to the rule: “MCSD will comply with the Emergency Rule, signed by State Surgeon General Joseph Ladapo. The district urges all parents, particularly those with students who are known to have been exposed to COVID-19, to continue to monitor those students closely for symptoms of COVID-19 and to keep them home if they show any symptoms at all.”
“Our main goal is to keep students and school staff safe from disease so they can continue to attend school every day,” said Superintendent Theresa Axford. “We need everyone to work together toward that goal. We encourage everyone to continue to wear masks while indoors, practice safe distancing, cleanliness, and to be vaccinated if eligible. These are the steps we know will help us to reach our goal of keeping our schools healthy and operating at their full capacity.”
School board member Sue Woltanski, who has continuously expressed concern about the COVID-19 rates in Monroe County and advocated for wearing masks in schools per American Academy of Pediatrics recommendations, expressed her thoughts about the state’s emergency rule.
“The new rule came out yesterday, and all the schools were notified today and parents were notified by robo calls,” she said. “We’re counting on parents to keep kids at home if they show symptoms of COVID and continue to encourage people to wear masks. My advice to people is that this is one more reason kids should be wearing masks in schools while COVID rates are high in the community.”
The chairman of the school board, John Dick, agrees with the emergency rule.
“I think it’s a good thing,” he said. “I think parents can have more control over what’s going on with their child. They can take their temperature and keep the child at home if they have a slight fever or symptoms of the flu. Because from last year’s quarantining, we found there really wasn’t a spread amongst the children.”
The complete emergency rule can be found at https://floridahealthcovid19.gov/wp-content/uploads/2021/09/64DER21-15.pdf.
Meanwhile, the U.S. Department of Education announced on Thursday, Sept. 23, that it has “awarded the School Board of Alachua County $147,719 in funding under the new Project to Support America’s Families and Educators (Project SAFE) grant program.
This is the first award under Project SAFE, and funding will support the Florida school district’s efforts to protect students as they return to safe, in-person learning despite the state’s actions to prohibit implementation of strategies to limit the spread of COVID-19 consistent with science-based guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The Project SAFE program was announced as part of President Biden’s COVID-19 Action Plan to combat COVID-19 and safely reopen schools for in-person learning.
As part of the program, school districts have been able to apply to the Department of Education to restore funding withheld by state leaders—such as salaries for school board members or superintendents who have had their pay cut—when a school district implemented strategies to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 in schools.”