Florida school district will no longer allow COVID as excused absence

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One of the largest school districts in the country will no longer allow excused absences for students who stay home over fears of the coronavirus.

Orange County Public Schools, which has more than 206,000 students at 202 schools in the Orlando area, informed parents of the new rule on Wednesday.

The school district is the ninth largest in the United States and the fourth largest in Florida.

"OCPS families, this is an update regarding parents keeping students home during the increased COVID-19 cases. Beginning January 31, we will no longer be able to provide excused absences in such cases," the district wrote on Facebook.

In a letter to parents, Superintendent Barbara Jenkins further clarified that excused absences will no longer be provided for "those voluntarily keeping their children at home due to the pandemic."

Parents are still encouraged to keep their children home if they are experiencing COVID symptoms, Jenkins added.

The main reason for changing the policy, the district explained, is due to the "additional strain on our teachers as they continue to manage assignments for large numbers of absent students."

The district also noted that COVID-19 cases are declining in schools. On January 27, the district reported a total of 156 confirmed COVID cases among students and employees in all of its schools. That's a drastic change from January 18, when the district reported 743 confirmed cases among students and 169 cases among employees.

"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," the district said. "We simply must discontinue the provision."

The policy change does not apply to students who have tested positive for COVID-19. Those absences will continue to be excused.

For parents who want to continue to keep their children at home as a precaution because of the pandemic, the district suggested enrolling those students in home school education.

The district requires adults to wear masks in schools and strongly encourages students to wear masks as well.