Change to Hope Scholarship Eyed

The state Department of Education is considering a rule change that would remove “COVID-19 harassment” as a reason that families could seek school vouchers under Florida’s Hope Scholarship.

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The Hope Scholarship, launched during the 2018-19 school year, is geared toward allowing students who have been bullied, harassed or assaulted at school to receive private-school vouchers or transfer to another public school. Under an emergency rule that was approved by the State Board of Education in August 2021, the scholarships could be claimed based on students being subject to schools’ coronavirus mitigation measures. The rule defined “COVID-19 harassment” as “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 wearing masks, being quarantined and testing requirements.

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Participation in the coronavirus-related vouchers got off to a slow start, with fewer than 100 students receiving the scholarships in the first month of the 2021-22 school year. The emergency rule was a result of an executive order by Gov. Ron DeSantis that sought to prevent schools from imposing mask requirements during the coronavirus pandemic. DeSantis made his fight against school mask requirements a major priority during the 2021-22 school year, and has claimed the prohibition of such requirements as a major political victory.

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