BY JENNIFER CABRERA
The new Florida Surgeon General, Dr. Joseph Ladapo, is already making a splash with a new Florida Department of Health (FDOH) emergency rule governing the COVID-19 protocols for school settings.
Major changes in Emergency Rule 64DER21-15 include a stronger statement about parental rights regarding masks and removal of the requirement that students who are identified as close contacts to a positive COVID-19 case must quarantine.
The new mask rule states that “Schools may adopt requirements for students to wear masks or facial coverings as a mitigation measure; however, the school must allow for a parent or legal guardian of the student to opt the student out of wearing a face covering or mask at the parent or legal guardian’s sole discretion.” This contrasts with the previous language, which stated that “the school must allow for a parent or legal guardian of the student to opt-out the student from wearing a face covering or mask,” which some districts interpreted as meaning that a doctor’s signature could be required.
The protocols for students with exposure to COVID-19 are significantly different from the previous rule, which required those students to quarantine: “Schools shall allow parents or legal guardians the authority to choose how their child receives education after having direct contact with an individual that is positive for COVID-19.” Parents or guardians may now choose to allow the student to continue attending school and school activities, “without restrictions or disparate treatment, so long as the student remains asymptomatic”; or they may choose to quarantine the student “for a period of time not to exceed seven days from the date of last direct contact with an individual that is positive for COVID-19.”
If a student becomes symptomatic, that student must then follow the protocol for symptomatic or COVID-19 positive students, meaning they cannot return to school or school activities until the student receives a negative COVID-19 test and is asymptomatic; OR ten days have passed since the positive test result or onset of symptoms, the student has had no fever for 24 hours, and other symptoms are improving; OR the student receives written permission to return to school from a medical doctor, osteopathic physician, or advanced registered nurse practitioner.
In response to the new rule, Alachua County Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Carlee Simon released a statement saying, “We will be reviewing the new rules and any notifications we receive from the State with our legal counsel and medical advisors. In the meantime, we will continue to follow the masking and quarantine policies currently in place in our schools.” She added, “The new rules emphasize parent choice regarding masking of students whose parents do not want their children to wear masks, but do not provide for the choice many parents wish to make to send their children to a school in which masks are worn by all students, other than those who are prevented from doing so by a medical condition.”