Florida Department of Health rule allows parents to opt students out of COVID quarantines, ACPS will not change policy

Published: Sep. 22, 2021 at 10:34 PM EDT
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GAINESVILLE, Fla. (AP/WCJB) -A day after assuming his job, Florida’s newly appointed surgeon general on Wednesday signed new rules allowing parents to decide whether their children should quarantine or stay in school after being exposed to someone who has tested positive for COVID-19.

The guidelines signed by Dr. Joseph Ladapo eliminate previous rules requiring students to quarantine for at least four days off campus if they’ve been exposed. Under the new rules, students who have been exposed can continue going to campus, “without restrictions or disparate treatment,” provided they are asymptomatic. They can also quarantine, but no longer than seven days, provided they do not get sick.

“Quarantining healthy students is incredibly damaging for their educational advancement,” Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis said Wednesday at a news conference in Kissimmee. “It’s also disruptive for families. We are going to be following a symptoms-based approach.”

Unchanged from the earlier rules are requirements that students with the virus either quarantine for 10 days, receive a negative test, and be asymptomatic or offer a doctor’s note granting permission.

Also unchanged from the previous guidelines are rules allowing schools to adopt mask mandates as long as students can opt-out. School officials in Alachua, Broward, Leon, Miami-Dade and Orange counties recently challenged that rule prohibiting mask mandates, but the Florida Department of Health on Wednesday said in a court filing that the challenge should be dismissed since the old rules are now moot.

RELATED STORY: Alachua County School Board files legal action against Florida Department of Health

Alachua County Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Carlee Simon called the Department of Health rule changes “disingenuous.”

“Essentially, the State is responding to the legal challenges of its rules by repealing them and creating new ones, with limited public notice,” Simon said in a statement.

Simon said the school district will continue their current policies which do not allow parents to opt students out of wearing masks or quarantining.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says people who get infected can spread the virus starting from two days before they have any symptoms. The CDC recommends that a student should quarantine for 14 days if they are unvaccinated. They can shorten the quarantine to seven days by testing negative, according to the CDC.

DeSantis named Ladapo to the job on Tuesday.

Simon’s full statement:

“Although we have not received official notification from either the Florida Department of Health (DOH) or the Florida Department of Education (DOE), we have learned that the DOH has filed new rules regarding masks and quarantines in school. The rules were signed by Florida’s new Surgeon General Dr. Joseph Ladapo in response to legal challenges from several School Boards, including Alachua, Broward, Orange, Miami-Dade and Leon.

Essentially, the State is responding to the legal challenges of its rules by repealing them and creating new ones, with limited public notice. This appears disingenuous and counter to the Florida Department of Health’s stated mission to “protect, promote and improve the health of all people in Florida through integrated state, county and community efforts.”

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. In addition, the new rules allow parents to send an asymptomatic student who has direct contact with a person testing positive for COVID-19 to school with no restrictions.

I find it ironic that the new state rule begins with the phrase “Because of an increase in COVID-19 infections, largely due to the spread of the COVID-19 delta variant…” In fact, this rule is likely to promote the spread of COVID-19 by preventing schools from implementing the common-sense masking and quarantine policies recommended by the vast majority of health care professionals, including those here in Alachua County. The State is, in fact, doubling down on policies that may ultimately put students, staff and the entire community at greater risk.

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.”

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