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Florida district will no longer allow excused absences for kids staying home due to Covid concerns

Orange County Public Schools cited declining Covid cases and the extra burden on teachers in announcing the new policy, which takes effect Jan. 31.
A school crossing guard wears a face mask outside Sadler Elementary School on Jan. 4, 2022, in Orlando, Fla.
A school crossing guard wears a face mask outside Sadler Elementary School on Jan. 4, 2022, in Orlando, Fla.Phelan M. Ebenhack / AP

A Florida school district, the ninth largest in the nation, will no longer allow excused absences for students who remain at home due to Covid-19 concerns.

Orange County Public Schools, which has over 206,000 students at 202 Orlando-area schools, made the announcement Wednesday, saying parents "keeping students home during the increased Covid-19 cases" will no longer be able to get excused absences for their children starting Jan. 31.

"It is ... an additional strain on our teachers as they continue to manage assignments for large numbers of absent students," the district said in a statement.

Officials also noted the number of Covid cases has declined and face masks are required in the district for adults and strongly encouraged for students. 

According to the district’s Covid-19 dashboard, there are 19,548 confirmed cases within the district — 3,877 employees, 15,594 students and 77 vendors or visitors.  

"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 added in its announcement. "We simply must discontinue the provision."

Asked about the consequence for noncompliance, the district referred NBC News to its attendance handbook.

According to the handbook, if a student has at least five unexcused absences within a month, the student’s teacher can report it to the principal, who will then refer the case, if necessary, to the school’s Child Study Team.

If the team determines a pattern of nonattendance is developing, it could result in a meeting with parents and several remedial strategies such as evaluating alternative education options. Ultimately, if a parent continues to refuse to participate in these strategies, they can appeal to the board.

In the announcement, the district also said parents who want to keep their children out of school can enroll their kids in Home School Education.

The updated guidance impacts students staying home as a precaution — not children who test positive for Covid-19. The district added that if a student is exhibiting illness or symptoms of Covid-19, they should be kept at home. 

Under previous safety protocols, if a child was sick, staying home due to exposure to the virus or kept home by their parents out of an abundance of caution, they were given an excused absence, according to the district’s website.