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Duval County School Board votes to allow counsel to look at legal action challenging quarantine emergency rule

The Duval County School Board voted Tuesday to let its general counsel look at challenging the state's rule allowing parents to decide to quarantine their children.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — The Duval County School Board responded Tuesday to Florida Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran, voting to uphold the mask mandate and discussing the new quarantine emergency order. 

At an emergency meeting Tuesday, the school board voted 4-3 in favor of letting its general counsel look at challenging the Department of Health's emergency rule announced last week. The rule, announced by Florida's new Surgeon General Joseph Ladapo, gives parents the choice of whether to quarantine their child if they're exposed to COVID, but not showing any symptoms.

The board's decision Tuesday comes one day after it cited the emergency rule and declining COVID cases when it announced elementary classrooms would no longer move online. Previously, if there were more than two COVID cases in a seven-day period, classes would go virtual. Now, students only have to quarantine now if they have symptoms. 

According to counsel at the meeting, they are potentially exploring whether the state had the legal authority to create it under an emergency rule.

“If my child is not sick, and they're not being forced to wear a muzzle, they will go to school," parent Chaille Hovinga said. "I check their temperatures every day. They take a bath every day. My children are very clean, healthy children. If they are sick, they will stay home, slightest fever anything over 98.9, they stay home with me."

Hovinga was at the meeting Tuesday. She's in favor of parents' choice.

"The school board needs to stop playing around with the parent's choices on their kids," she said.

“They don't know what's right for my children. I do. I'm their mother. Their father supports me 150 percent. He's the reason why I'm here today. He pushed me to come here and stand up for our children, for the rights of our kids, because nobody else apparently wants to," Hovinga said.

The meeting was called in response to a letter Corcoran sent the district last week detailing the new order. He also wrote that the state was giving the district "one more opportunity to come into compliance" with the state's rule when it comes to masks. 

Corcoran went on to say the new rule says "the school must allow for a parent or legal guardian of the student to opt the student out of wearing face covering or mask at the parent or legal guardian's sole discretion." He said in the letter the district's "erroneous interpretation that the parental opt-out permits a medical-only opt-out" is not allowed.

“We know how to protect children," local pediatrician Dr. Jeffrey Goldhagen said. "We protect children by masking, by spacing, by disinfecting, by contact tracing, and by quarantining. Any elimination of any of those will make the process less safe for children. We can keep children in schools safe if we apply all of those strategies."

Goldhagen also works for the University of Florida, but his views don't reflect the University's. Goldhagen spoke at Tuesday's meeting.

“The executive order, or emergency order, by the acting Surgeon General is an assault on science. It's an assault on public health, and it's an assault on children, children's health," he said.

Corcoran also said in the letter he's continuing to investigate the district's mask mandate, and threatens to withhold board members' salaries until there's compliance. 

Superintendent Dr. Diana Greene said at the meeting, the mask mandate, when first initiated in August, is good for 90 days. The district can choose to suspend the mandate if the number of cases per 100,000 gets under 50, and the percent positivity on a rolling seven-day average is below eight percent. 

As of Tuesday, the number of cases per 100,000 was 169.8 and the percent positivity rate was right at eight percent. 

The board has until Thursday to respond to Corcoran's letter.

    

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