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Sen. Joe Gruters Proposes Private Vouchers For Florida Families Opposed To Masks At School

Man stares with hand on his mouth.
News Service of Florida
Sen. Joe Gruters said "all families should have choice in education" -- including whether their children should wear masks.

According to Gruters, it's not "anti-mask legislation," but rather aims to "empower families to make decisions that are best for their children."

Republican state senator Joe Gruters says he plans to introduce legislation to grant private school vouchers to parents who don’t want their children to wear masks in school, even as coronavirus cases continue to rise in Florida and across the nation.

In a Facebook post last month, the Sarasota lawmaker said the “Face Freedom” scholarships would be structured like HOPE scholarships, which are designed to help children who have been bullied move to another school.

“With families, not elected officials and bureaucrats, being the best decision makers for their children, I believe that all families should have choice in education - From deciding which academic programs best fit the needs of their children to whether they believe their child should or should not be forced to wear a mask in school all day,” Gruters wrote in the post, dated October 29.

“Additionally, by giving families options, this would force School District bureaucrats to 'face freedom' as a key consideration when implementing blanket mask mandates.”

Gruters won re-election to his state Senate seat on November 3. He did not respond to WUSF’s requests for comment.

The state legislative session starts in March, so any such law, if passed, would not take effect until next school year.

“It is kind of late in the game because I’m guessing that before his bill would be passed and started, probably next fall, that hopefully we are out of COVID and we are not wearing masks at school,” said Sarasota teacher’s union president Pat Gardner.

“Secondly, I just think vouchers are a way to divert money to unaccountable private schools.”

The bottom line, according to Gardner, is that masks in school are important to maintain the safety of teachers, especially as coronavirus cases continue to mount statewide.

“Our teachers want masks. If they don’t have them, you will lose so many teachers — to leaves to early retirements — that you will not be able to fill the classrooms. We already have horrible problems finding substitutes," she said.