Fla. school district no longer excusing student absences over COVID fears, cites declining cases

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The Orange County, Florida school district is no longer excusing absences for students whose parents keep them home due to COVID-19 fears.

One of the largest school districts in the Sunshine State, Orange County Public Schools announced the policy change in a letter to parents.

“We can no longer provide excused absences for those voluntarily keeping their children at home due to the pandemic,” Orange County Public Schools Superintendent Barbara Jenkins informed parents in the letter, according to WESH.

Jenkins had previously said that when students returned from the winter holiday break, those who stayed home out of fear of contracting the virus would be excused as long as they kept up with their assignments, which were being posted online by teachers.

The superintendent cited a decline in COVID-19 cases and a large number of absent students for the change, the NBC affiliate reported. Jenkins also said teachers were struggling to manage assignments for so many absent students.

At the same time, the Democratic superintendent let it be known that the state, being led by Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis, also played a factor in the decision.

“Additionally, the state has not extended the quarantine code to be used in accommodation of absences in our attendance records, so students should be considered truant for non-attendance,” Jenkins said.

The school district said in a statement on Facebook: “We simply must discontinue the provision.”

When classes resumed after the break, Jenkins said at a news conference that 700 teachers, which is 5% of the total number of teachers, called in sick, a well as well ad 14% of Orange County school bus drivers, according to WESH.

Parents who still have concerns about their children attending class will need to enroll their students in home school, she added.

Orange County schools still require masks for all adults on campus, including teachers and parents, and strongly recommends students were masks — DeSantis has banned Florida schools from mandating masks without giving parents a right to opt out, ultimately prevailing after several Democrat-run school districts challenged him in court. OCPS extended that policy this week through February.

Deputy Superintendent Maria Vazquez commented on the change Tuesday at an Orange County School Board meeting.

“Students really need to be in class to optimize their learning,” Vazquez said, according to the Orlando Sentinel, adding that it is also “extremely difficult for our teachers to manage so many students at home for an extended period of time.”

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