Florida’s St. Johns County School District is asking parents to sign a vague new consent form for health care services for their children at school. However, the growing number of revisions, ambiguities, inconsistencies, and conflicting answers have many parents questioning the motives and the legitimacy of the request.
The original email, sent to all parents and guardians of students in the St. Johns County School District (SJCSD) on Dec. 15, explained the reason for the new form was to ensure compliance with the “the recent ‘Parents’ Bill of Rights, F.S. 1014.06”
The introduction of the form reiterated the request was “due to the recent ‘Parent’s Bill of Rights” and said consent would enable “the school nurse to provide care and treatment” to their child in the event of “injury, illness: and “emergency health services.” Parents were warned, if they declined consent for those services, they would only be notified that their child “has such a need” and they would “be responsible for arrangement of care outside of the school setting.”
Part 6 on the consent form stated: “My child has permission to receive health services while at school, to include care and treatment for illness and injury.” Parents had two options: “Yes,” or “No – my child MAY NOT receive care or treatment from the school nurse.”
As parents read the new health care request form, immediate backlash ensued. Elizabeth Wittstadt, Chair of the St. Johns County Chapter of Moms for Liberty, sent out an Action Alert, warning parents the “form goes against the Parental Bill of Rights” and her research “proves the consent form is completely unnecessary for your child to receive care in school.
“The consent form only acts as an enforcement measure to exclude you from making healthcare decisions about your child while at school,” Whitestadt’s alert stated further. “Signing this form will allow others to determine your child’s healthcare needs without your permission. Please DO NOT sign away your parental rights and send this email to anyone considering doing so. Don’t worry if you’ve already signed, you can rescind your form.” Parents are also “asking for the Consent for Student Health Services to be rescinded immediately!”
According to Wittstadt, parents in the district flooded the school district with questions and concerns.
In response to one parent’s concern over the threat to deny emergency treatment unless they said “Yes” on the consent form, Kyle Dresback in the Student Services Office confirmed that if the parent “would like” for their child “to be seen by the school nurse to provide care and treatment” for “injuries or illness, and when necessary, emergency health services,” they should “feel free to complete the survey with YES.”
Dresback did not respond to a request by The Epoch Times for clarification of his email.
Within days, the introduction and consent form was revised on the SJCSD website. Gone is the warning that if parents decline to provide consent for treatment in the event of “injury, illness” and “emergency health services” they would only be notified that their child “has such a need” and they would “be responsible for arrangement of care outside of the school setting.” Now, they simply say, “the District is requesting” consent “to allow for the services traditionally provided by” the school nurse, such as “meeting emergency needs” and “emergency treatment.” Added to the introduction is a new caveat: “This consent DOES NOT AUTHORIZE Invasive screening or procedure” like COVID-19 testing, vaccinations “or other services that have traditionally required specific parental direction and consent,” such as “administration of medication.”
Step #6 on the consent form is now preceded by: “My child has permission to receive health services at school, to include care and treatment for illness and injury,” and a reiteration of the “DOES NOT AUTHORIZE” caveat. The “No” option still specifies “the school nurse” is not to provide “care or treatment” but advises “only emergency care will be provided.”
“They obviously saw there were some issues they needed to address,” Wittstadt said of the hasty revisions in the wake of the backlash. “But they didn’t address it clearly and I think they’re still trying to pull a fast one on parents. They want to revise it just enough to make some parents feel like they’ve explained themselves and will go ahead and sign it. But we really believe they’re trying to get us to sign away our parental rights.”
Ambiguities, Inconsistencies, Conflicting Answers, and The Law
The Dec. 15 email states the new form is “due to the recent Parents’ Bill of Rights” (PBOR) and “consent will allow the school nurse to provide care and treatment to your child for injuries and illnesses, and when necessary, emergency health services.” However, the PBOR—F.S. 1014.06—was signed into law six months ago and refers to “a health care practitioner” or “an individual employed by such health care practitioner.” The definition of “health care practitioner” is extremely broad to include (among other things) nurses, acupuncturists, nutritionists, psychologists, speech therapists, physical therapists, and physicians. The SJCSD website states that by “working with parents, other health professionals and other school staff, the school nurse provides services such as “emergency health needs” and “medication administration.”
The “Yes” option on the consent form still does not specify who will provide the “health services.” However, the “No” option is specific in saying that the parent does not want their child “treated by the nurse.”
“If you say, ‘Yes,’ you’re not saying yes ‘to the school nurse.’ You’re saying ‘Yes’ to this broad selection,” Wittstadt explained, “and when you say ‘No,’ you’re saying no specifically to ‘the school nurse.’ It’s a situation where they’re playing apples and oranges. If they said ‘Yes’ and ‘No’ regarding ‘the school nurse,’ it would make more sense.”
The introduction on the consent form states “the district is requesting” consent to “allow for services traditionally provided by” the school nurse, such as “first aid” and “meeting emergency health needs.” However, the revised Part 6 of the consent form and the Dec. 21 FAQ sheet say, emergency care will be provided even if the parent declines to say “Yes.”
The directive for this new form appears to originate from Melissa Kledzik, St. Johns County Director of Health Services. In a Dec. 15 email to SJCSD Associate Superintendent for Student Support Services, Kledzick shared the directive she drafted, which was sent to parents.
However, clarification of “the services” was not clarified until Dec. 17, in an email from Sally Hugo, Florida School Health Liaison, Division of Community Health Services, School Health Services Program in Tallahassee, sent to Kledzik and shared with Dresback. Among the services listed is “emergency health services.”
However, the 2018 F.S. 381.0056, F.S. School Health Services Act dictates that “each county health department shall develop, jointly with the district school board and the local school health advisory committee, a school health services plan” that “must include, at a minimum, provisions for nineteen specific health care services, including “meeting emergency health needs.” The Act clarifies that “Emergency health needs” means “onsite evaluation, management, and aid for illness or injury pending the student’s return to the classroom or release to a parent, guardian, designated friend, law enforcement officer, or designated health care provider.” Refusing to provide such care if a child “has such a need” would violate this law.
The consent form revision, to include the warning that if parents “decline consent,” to “allow the school nurse” to provide such care as “emergency health services” they would only be informed that their child “has such a need” and the parents would “be responsible for making arrangement of care outside of the school setting,” and FAQ sheet appear to have been drafted by Dresback.
In an effort to obtain clarification of the ambiguities and inconsistencies, The Epoch Times reached out to each of the five SJCSD School Board Members. Only one board member provided a response.
“Our staff is attempting to adhere to the Parents Bill of Rights with the form,” Board Member Beverly Slough, (District 1) told The Epoch Times. “In essence, it codifies parents’ wishes in regard to having our nurses provide first aid and emergency care for their children. It in no way empowers our staff to give vaccines, other pharmaceuticals, or any kind of treatment not expressly approved by parents. Unfortunately, in a highly politicized environment, trust has eroded among some of our parents, resulting in misunderstanding. Again, our district has no intention of undermining the will of our parents in the care of their children. We are simply trying to comply with the law by providing the form.”
Asked to clarify why SJCSD believes the form is necessary because of the PBOR when the preexisting Florida Statute 10006.062 and SJCSD School Board Rule 5.15 already require parental consent and SJCSD already has guidelines and a consent form for parents granting the school nurse permission to administer medications, Slough said “our staff interprets the law to require the form, thus the request to complete it. Obviously, if a child were injured, we would not decline to provide first aid. Again, our district is trying to comply with the law.”
Christina Langston, Chief of Community Relations for St. Johns County School District provided a conflicting answer.
“Our school board has not discussed this collectively or had a workshop on this topic, currently there is not one scheduled,” Langston told The Epoch Times by email. “Of course, that could change.” Langston also said, “the department of health sent out a directive to every school district and local department of health in the state of Florida, so this is not specific to St. Johns or any one school district.”
According to the Dec. 15 email to Dresbak from Keldzik, she sent the directive to “all school nurses.” The email does not state it was sent to “every school district and local department of health in the state of Florida.”
Despite F.S. 10006.062, School Board Rule 5.15, pre-established medication guidelines, a preexisting consent form, and F.S. 381.056 (ensuring “emergency health needs in each school”), no explanation is offered in the district’s Dec. 15 email, the subsequent Dec. 21. FAQ or offered by Slough or Langston, as to why a new, additional consent form is needed, why it wasn’t required when school began in St. Johns County on Aug. 16 or when Fla. Gov. Ron DeSantis signed the PBOR into law June 30. Nor is it explained if or why previously provided consent forms are now insufficient. As the PBOR does not set a deadline for when consent forms must be submitted by parents to obtain traditionally provided health care services in school, the SJCSD does not explain why parents must submit their new consent forms by Jan. 18.
Parents Still Concerned
Stacie Morales, a St. Johns County resident and Moms for Liberty member with two children attending Palm Valley Academy, is troubled by what she believes is a covert effort to take away parents’ rights.
“I have a lot of concerns about the consent form asking us to sign away our fundamental rights that were granted to us under the Parents’ Bill of Rights to be able to direct the healthcare and education of our children in schools,” Morales told The Epoch Times. “The email was coercive. It said specifically that if we didn’t sign away our rights our children will not receive any care from the school nurse and if we do sign away our rights they will receive ‘health services,’ which remains undefined, and ‘treated for illness and injury,’ which remains undefined. I’m not sure what’s going on here.”
Morales noted how the PBOR took effect July 1. Although the school board held a workshop and a regular board meeting on Dec. 14, the day before the email and new consent form went out, there was no mention of this consent form.
“This issue is so important,” Morales asserted. “We’re hearing about kids getting vaccinated at school without the parents’ knowledge or consent and Biden’s new ‘Test to Stay’ in school plan and when we raised our concerns over this form with the school district it’s interesting that they quietly made some changes. Now they’ve amended the form, saying they’re going to clarify the form. We want to know, why now? Who’s this coming from? We would like to see the exact directive and why it’s needed. We haven’t heard about this happening in other parts of the state. If this is a state law, it should apply to all school districts evenly. We also want to know what kind of guidance is being given by the director of health services for the district to school nurses. That information is missing as well.”
Test-to-Stay was announced Dec. 17 by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) in conjunction with the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (pdf), which highlighted the use of test-to-stay practices in schools “to minimize absenteeism and learning loss which can occur during traditional quarantine at home.
“In light of this updated data, CDC has added information on test-to-stay practices to our K-12 Transmission Science Brief and on our K-12 webpages,” the CDC explained on its website. “Test-to-Stay is another valuable tool in a layered prevention strategy that includes promoting vaccination of eligible students and staff, requiring everyone age 2 and older wear a mask inside schools and facilities, keeping at least 3 feet of distance between students, screening testing, ventilation, handwashing, and staying home when sick. Additionally, CDC recommends everyone ages 5 years and older get a COVID-19 vaccine to help protect against COVID-19.”
“As parents, we believe our school nurses are a great first line of reaction and we want them there for our kids if there’s some kind of an emergency in school, like if they get a scrape on the playground or they need an ice pack,” Wittstadt told The Epoch Times. “That’s really what we see school nurses are there for.” However, when it comes to distribution of medications, Wittstadt said parents “already signed consent forms for that.”
“The consent form they sent out was so vague,” Wittstadt noted, “and in this heightened time where just see trickery and evasive maneuvers, we don’t have a high level of confidence and we don’t want the school nurse or the school district to become our child’s primary care physician and the way they word it, it really leaves them open to do whatever they want, and it closes the parent out. What we’re saying is; what are you trying to do? You’re essentially trying to take away parents’ control. What else could you be defining as ‘treatment?'”
Parents’ Rights “Must be Respected”
“Governor DeSantis has led the way in fighting for parental rights,” Christina Pushaw, DeSantis’ Press Secretary told The Epoch Times. “Parents know their own children best; therefore, parents’ rights to make health and education decisions for their kids must be respected.” That said, Pushaw went on to say that parents must give informed written consent for their children to be “tested for COVID-19 or other medical procedures at school” and “there is a DOH rule in place specifying that parents and legal guardians must give consent for their children to receive COVID-19 tests at school,” she is “not aware of other school districts sending out emails like this” and she can see how the wording of the email compared to the form is “unclear and potentially contradicts itself.”
On Oct. 29, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration authorized the emergency use of the new Pfizer BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine for children between 5–11. In November, reports began to surface that the Biden administration has been working with the American Academy of Pediatrics to partner local physicians with schools in order to promote the newly approved kid’s Pfizer vaccine and urge elementary schools to set up COVID-19 vaccination clinics to begin vaccinating students aged 5 through 11. On Dec. 15, the St. John’s County School District sent emails to parents requesting that they submit the vague new Request for Parental Consent for Student Health Services forms before Jan. 18. On Dec. 17, the Biden administration announced the Test-to-Stay program for schools and “recommends everyone ages 5 years and older get a COVID-19 vaccine.”
Jack Phillips contributed to this report.