Recent website updates by the Florida Department of Education (FDOE), under the recently appointed Commissioner of Education Senator Manny Diaz Jr., put a focus on parental rights and COVID guidance.

The website update provides a link at the top of the FDOE home page called “Featured Topics.” The top featured topics listed under the link are “Parental Rights” and COVID-19.

Under the “Parental Rights” tab is a message that states, “Florida is taking bold steps to protect parental rights and ensure the lawfulness of instructional materials. If you believe you have found unlawful materials in your school or you are just unsure how to voice your concerns, please see the helpful information below.”

The “Parental Rights” page lists contact information to share concerns directly with FDOE or with a school’s principal. A link on the page lists contacts for all public school principals in the 67 school districts.

Florida law now requires school districts to adopt and post policies online for several parental rights, including means for the public to review instructional and library materials, and processes for the public to challenge and voice their complaints about those materials

In addition, a message on the “Parental Rights” page notes that Florida law makes it illegal for an adult to knowingly distribute to a minor on school property, or post on school property, any pornographic or harmful materials, as defined in law. The message tells parents if they have concerns regarding the potential introduction of pornographic or other materials harmful to minors within a school to contact the local state attorney’s office.

The FDOE website updates related to parental rights is consistent with the provisions of the Parental Rights in Education bill (HB 1557) signed into law by Governor Ron DeSantis on March 28, 2022.

DeSantis said in support of the bill, “Parents’ rights have been increasingly under assault around the nation, but in Florida we stand up for the rights of parents and the fundamental role they play in the education of their children.”

The COVID-19 page provides information related to federal funding, guidance, and resources related to Florida’s response to the pandemic. The information on these pages includes guidance, tools, and resources that were provided to school districts, educators, families, and the community to ensure the health and safety of students and educators.

The page notes that on February 24, 2022, the Florida Department of Health updated its guidelines for students to return safely to classrooms by reducing the time a student must isolate after testing positive for COVID-19 from 10 to 5 days. The guidance is also clear that healthy students do not need to quarantine.

The page also states that Florida held a special legislative session in November 2021 to protect Floridians from losing their jobs due to COVID-19 vaccine mandates and protect parents’ rights to make healthcare decisions for students.

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Steve Stewart is a senior contributor at The Florida Capital Star.