GOP, DeSantis target local school board elections, Broward schools to require masks, and more

School board races: Florida Republicans are making plans to capitalize on the popularity of Gov. Ron DeSantis to focus on winning local school board elections that have traditionally been conducted in a nonpartisan manner. The pandemic and hot national and statewide GOP issues like face mask mandates in schools and critical race theory are creating broader interest in the local elections. The state Republican party will be putting “significant resources” into training for those races, said party vice chair Christian Ziegler. “There’s momentum,” he said. “We’re riding this energy right now.” State Sen. Joe Gruters of Sarasota, the statewide GOP chair, said, “Gov. DeSantis has said winning these school board races is a top priority and he will help use his influence to win some of these races.” Politico Florida.

Coronavirus cases soar: Florida reported 16,038 new coronavirus cases on Tuesday, the highest one-day total since Jan. 15, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It was the seventh consecutive day Florida has reported more than 12,000 new cases. Ninety-two deaths were also reported. The seven-day averages for the state are 13,502 cases and 57 deaths. The surge comes as school districts are trying to decide whether to require masks when schools open next month. News Service of Florida. Miami Herald.

Around the state: Broward school board members defy Gov. DeSantis in deciding that students and employees must wear face masks when schools reopen Aug. 18, Miami-Dade students will have to wear face masks when riding school buses, a majority of the Palm Beach County School Board votes to overturn the district’s firing of a high school principal, Volusia County students will no longer have to wear uniforms to school, Palm Beach and Broward school board members approve contracts for interim superintendents, and a Pasco County student is selected to become national student president of the Students Against Destructive Decisions. Here are details about those stories and other developments from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities:

Miami-Dade: School officials announced Wednesday that students will have to wear face masks when riding school buses this fall. Right now, masks are optional in classrooms, but Superintendent Alberto Carvalho said that decision could be revisited as coronavirus rates surge. WPLG. WTVJ.

Broward: School board members agreed Wednesday in a workshop meeting to make face masks mandatory for teachers and employees when schools reopen Aug. 18. The decision makes the district the first in Florida to require face marks for the next school year, and puts it at odds with Gov. DeSantis, who has vowed there will be no mask mandates in schools and said he’d call a special legislative session if necessary to “provide protection for parents of these kids that want to breathe freely and don’t want to be suffering under these masks.” The board also ignored the recommendation of outgoing Superintendent Robert Runcie to make masks optional. “A lot of the research that’s being done is speaking to the fact that children can be asymptomatic,” said board chair Rosalind Osgood. “If a child is asymptomatic and then comes to school and impacts an adult who dies, that is not something I want on my watch. At the end of the day, I have to make a moral decision.” Sun Sentinel. Miami Herald. WLRN. WPLG. WSVN. WFOR. WTVJ. Board members also unanimously approved a contract for interim superintendent Vickie Cartwright. She begins work Monday and will be paid $275,000 a year. Sun Sentinel. Miami Herald.

Hillsborough: A magnet middle school has added the name of a famed professional wrestler and philanthropist. This week, the school board approved changing the name of Slight Middle Magnet School to the Thaddeus M. Bullard Academy at Sligh Middle Magnet School. Bullard, who wrestles under the name of Titus O’Neil, has a nonprofit foundation that has helped raise money and make donations to county schools since 2018. Patch.

Palm Beach: A majority of the school board has voted to overturn the district’s firing of Atlantic High School principal Tara Dellegrotti. The decision comes about a month after district officials terminated Dellegrotti’s contract over several racially charged incidents at the school and allegations that there was a “culture of systemic and blatant racism on campus.” The reinstatement means Dellegrotti would be rehired in some capacity and probably receive back pay. School board chair Frank Barbieri pushed for the reversal, saying, “I don’t believe that the punishment fits the offense. And it should’ve been a lesser punishment than a non-renewal of a longtime principal in this district who’s done a fairly good job in the schools that she’s been assigned to over the years.” Palm Beach Post. Board members also approved a contract for Michael Burke, who was chosen as the interim superintendent to replace the outgoing Donald Fennoy. Burke will be paid at a prorated salary of $300,000 a year until the board hires a permanent superintendent. Palm Beach Post. WPTV. WPEC.

Duval: At least 1,400 students have enrolled in the school district’s online learning program. The Duval Virtual Instruction Academy offers independent learning for K-12 students but also a “synchronous” program option for K-5 students to learn together while following a set daily schedule. WJCT. The district is sticking with its decision to “strongly” recommend, but not require, students to wear masks to school this fall, Superintendent Diana Greene said Wednesday. WJAX.

Polk: School board members officially removed the face mask mandate from the district’s policies this week as part of the new COVID-19 guidelines. The updated policies also include a continuation of social distancing and sanitation protocols, putting air purifiers in every classroom, and continuing quarantines for unvaccinated students and staff as well as vaccinated students with symptoms who have come in contact with the virus. Lakeland Ledger.

Lee: A new building at Lehigh Acres Middle School was officially opened Wednesday. The three-story school cost $54 million and will hold up to 1,300 students. The grades will be separated by floor. WBBH. Fort Myers News-Press.

Pasco: Shaina Finkel, a rising senior at Wiregrass Ranch High School, has been named the national student president for the Students Against Destructive Decisions. The organization, which has more than 40,000 members, advocates for traffic safety and against substance abuse. WTSP.

Brevard: A discussion about the district’s mask policies has been added to the agenda of today’s school board meeting. Masks are currently optional in schools, but board member Jennifer Jenkins asked for a review after she said she received hundreds of e-mails about the topic. She said most either want masks to be mandated, or for some middle ground to be found between optional and mandatory mask use. Florida Today.

Seminole: School board members have rejected a proposal to require students under the age of 12 to wear face masks in schools. Board member Kristine Kraus made the proposal and got support from Abby Sanchez. But colleagues Karen Almond, Tina Calderone and Amy Pennock voted to keep the rule approved in June that makes face masks optional when schools open Aug. 10. Orlando Sentinel.

Volusia: Uniforms will no longer be required in the county’s public schools, though a school dress code has been instituted. Prohibited are pants that sit below the hips, short shirts that expose midriffs, flip-flops, and shorts or skirts that end above the middle of the thigh. The policy had been in place since 2016, and its end aligns with the annual back-to-school tax holiday that runs from July 31 through Aug. 9. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Manatee: Sheriff’s deputy Daina Patterson, a school resource officer at Haile Middle School, has won the Florida Association of School Resource Officers 2021 Valor Award “for her quick response and actions to prevent a distressed student from jumping over the railing of a second-story breezeway last school year,” according to the school district. Patch.

Sarasota: A sharply divided school board was unable to come to a decision about allowing parents to record individualized education plan meetings with school officials. Board member Bridget Ziegler pushed to allow the recordings for the sake of transparency, while her colleague Jane Goodwin called the issue “a solution looking for a problem.” Board members asked district officials to research how many requests there had been to record conversations in the past year, and could revisit the topic after the information is collected. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Alachua: School officials held a celebration to mark the completion of the new Terwilliger Elementary School in Gainesville. The school has room for up to 900 students, and is the first school built in the district since 2012. Gainesville Sun. New Eastside High School principal Leroy V. Williams said his priorities include raising test scores in math and English and closing the school’s achievement gap. Key to the effort, he said, is establishing partnerships and engaging the community. Gainesville Sun.

Santa Rosa: Vaccinated and unvaccinated students who are exposed to the coronavirus but are asymptomatic may not be required to quarantine during the 2021-2022 school year, according to the new safety protocols approved by the school board. Masks will be optional, normal school activities will resume and there will be no limits on attendance at school events. Pensacola News Journal.

Charlotte: The district welcomed about 140 new teachers and 40 support employees to a two-day orientation. Charlotte Sun.

Citrus: School board members have declined to help three schools repair their malfunctioning electronic signs. They said when the schools decided to buy the signs, they were told that they, not the district, would be responsible for repairs, which can cost about $5,000. The schools said they don’t have the money, but board members decided they didn’t want to assume repair costs. ““If money was no object, we would fix whatever’s broken,” said board chair Sandy Counts. Citrus County Chronicle.

Gulf: School board members have approved a district budget that drops the property tax millage rate about 1 percent, from 6.263 to 6.208. The district’s revenue from property taxes will still go up by about $1.45 million because of higher property values. Port St. Joe Star.

Monroe: School board members have tentatively approved a budget that will include up to $2.5 million for employee raises and a lower property tax millage rate. Higher property values will more than offset the drop in the millage rate. A final vote on the budget will be Sept. 7.  Key West Citizen. A private school focusing on teaching autistic students opens Aug. 30 in Tavernier. Carrie Brazer Center for Autism teachers will use positive discipline techniques and the principles of applied behavior analysis to educate students on the autism spectrum. The school will accept state scholarships given through the McKay, Gardiner and Family Empowerment programs. Step Up For Students, which hosts this blog, helps administer the scholarships. Florida Keys Weekly.

Colleges and universities: The University of South Florida has asked St. Petersburg campus chancellor Martin Tadlock to stay on through June 22. Tadlock had announced that he’d return to teaching at the end of this year, but was asked to delay that after USF President Steve Currall announced his resignation. WUSF. Gov. DeSantis has appointed Makayla Buchanan, the executive director of the Clay Education Foundation, to the St. Johns River State College District Board of Trustees. Clay Today.

Around the nation: Walmart is offering to pay full college tuition and books to its 1.5 million U.S. employees, starting Aug. 16. NPR.

Opinions on schools: COVID-19 forced schools to change from being buildings where teaching, learning and programs were bundled together to serve students and families to a menu of services and choices that parents were forced to piece together to meet their needs. The potential long-term result could be a more student-focused, parent-directed and pluralistic K-12 school system. Bruno Manno, The 74. Legislation that supports, statewide, the science of reading professional development pathways, helps build the comprehensive system necessary for a literate Florida. By equipping teachers and parents with the right tools, we set children on a trajectory for success. Paige Pullen, Gainesville Sun.