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Senators advance more COVID liability protections for Florida schools

'It's going to help everybody recover quickly,' Sen. Joe Gruters says
Posted at 8:12 PM, Mar 30, 2021
and last updated 2021-03-30 22:20:47-04

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Florida schools could be getting a break after a year of dealing with the pandemic.

A Senate panel Tuesday unanimously advanced a bill with numerous new COVID provisions for schools, colleges and universities.

SPECIAL COVERAGE: Coronavirus

If signed by the governor, SPB 7070 would allow the waiver of performance metrics tied to this year's testing and grades. Plus, after an amendment, parents could also hold back kindergarteners through fifth-graders if desired.

"It's pretty broad, but it's going to help everybody recover quickly," said Sen. Joe Gruters, R-Sarasota, the bill's sponsor.

The policy also provides new COVID liability protections for Florida's educational institutions. It restricts lawsuits seeking to reclaim tuition or fees from educational facilities that switched to virtual learning.

State Sen. Joe Gruters says the bill will help schools recover from the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.
State Sen. Joe Gruters

The provision is beyond what lawmakers offered schools in SB 72, which the governor signed on Monday.

"Well, listen," Gruters said. "If you went to school and got the credits, whether it be online or virtually, I think you could make the argument that you still got the credits so you still have to pay."

There was some concern from members of the Education Committee that the bill's language was too broad. Gruters said he'd consider revisions as the policy moves forward.

State Sen. Shevrin Jones
State Sen. Shevrin Jones is among the Democrats who support the bill.

That was enough to satisfy several Democrats who had some apprehensions.

"This is the opportunity, right now, that we all have to right some of the wrongs we saw," said Sen. Shevrin Jones, D-Miami Gardens.

The legislation will face at least one more committee stop before reaching the Senate floor.

Though Gruters said he was working with the House, members in the other chamber have yet to file a similar version of the bill, and the clock is running. This year's legislative session hits its midpoint on Wednesday.