The Florida Board of Education passed a rule Friday allowing parents in the state to skirt mask mandates that districts may enforce for their children.
The rule, passed unanimously at an emergency meeting, lets parents transfer their kids to a private school or another district if they experience "COVID-19 harassment," including mask requirements.
According to the rule, these students would qualify for a Hope Scholarship, an existing program created to protect children who are bullied, assaulted, harassed or threatened in school.
The Florida Department of Health also announced a rule on Friday requiring school districts to allow parents to opt their children out of mask mandates.
Both rules were in response to an executive order issued last week by Gov. Ron DeSantis, which directed the state departments of education and health to enact measures to protect "parents' rights ... to make health care decisions for their minor children."
Multiple districts this week defied the governor's order by issuing mask mandates for their students, including northern Florida's Alachua County, where schools have experienced a surge of COVID-19 cases among staff, including two recent deaths.
Leanetta McNealy, the chair of the Alachua County School Board, who told ABC News Thursday that the executive order was "appalling and absurd," said Friday in a text message that the district will now allow parents to opt out of wearing masks by using the Hope Scholarship.
South Florida's Broward County Public Schools, the other district to require masks for students, had not released updated guidance by Friday evening. The district said Wednesday that it was "awaiting further guidance" before updating its policy.
The debate around mask requirements comes as the delta variant of the coronavirus wreaks havoc in Florida.
On Thursday, the Florida Hospital Association reported 12,500 patients were hospitalized with COVID-19, marking a new pandemic high. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the state is now reporting over 17,000 new cases per day. About 1 in 5 COVID cases diagnosed in the country are now in Florida, according to data from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Editor's note: Story updated to correct spelling of Leanetta McNealy's name.