Day 1, 2021-2022 school year: Many faces were masked and some were not as the third school year affected by the coronavirus pandemic began Tuesday in Florida. Forty-four districts welcomed students into schools that looked very much like the ones they left in May and June. But even with the continuing distraction of COVID, educators had their optimism on display. “Guess what?” said Kendrah Underwood, principal of the IDEA Victory charter school in Tampa. “We’re smiling with our eyes, we’re moving with our bodies and we are grateful to be here.” Eleven more districts open today, and five on Thursday. Here are reports on how things went in districts around the state. Tampa Bay Times. Sun Sentinel. Orlando Sentinel. Florida Times-Union. Lakeland Ledger. Daytona Beach News-Journal. Bradenton Herald. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Fort Myers News-Press. Pensacola News Journal. TCPalm. Ocala Star-Banner. Gainesville Sun. Daytona Beach News-Journal. Northwest Florida Daily News. Panama City News Herald. Citrus County Chronicle. Charlotte Sun. WESH. Daily Commercial. WPTV. WKMG. WJXT. WTSP. WFTS. WMBB. Florida Phoenix. Most Florida counties have coronavirus case rates four times higher than they were when schools started a year ago, and cases among children under 12 are up fivefold since August 2020. USA Today. Miami Herald.
Masking wars: Gov. Ron DeSantis reiterated Tuesday that the state will follow through on withholding pay for superintendents and school board members whose districts mandate face mask use for students but don’t offer parents the opportunity to opt-out. “What we’re going to do is we’re going to do whatever we can to vindicate the rights of parents, and make sure that parents are in the driver’s seat when it comes to the health, education and welfare of their kids and these should not be decreed by the government,” DeSantis said at a press conference. Tuesday, Broward’s school board rejected the rules set by the state last Friday. Miami Herald. Palm Beach Post. A hearing is scheduled Friday in a Leon County courtroom in the lawsuit brought by a group of parents challenging DeSantis’ executive order on face masks. News Service of Florida. President Joe Biden called Republican governors’ opposition to face masks in schools “a little disingenuous,” and administration spokeswoman Jen Psaki raised the possibility that federal coronavirus relief funds could be used to offset any money DeSantis tries to withhold from district officials who don’t follow the latest face mask rules. Reuters. Politico. Orlando Sentinel. Florida Phoenix. The state’s new emergency rules allow parents who don’t want their children to wear masks in schools to apply for a Hope Scholarship to send them to a different school. But the rules also allow parents who want to send their children to schools where masks are mandated to apply if they don’t. “It goes both ways,” said DeSantis spokeswoman Christina Pushaw. Florida Politics.
Around the state: Broward’s school board votes to keep its face mask mandate for students despite threats from the state, Leon County schools will now allow students to opt-out of the district’s policy without a note from a health professionals, other districts around the state continue to decide on face mask policies, Volusia school officials said a property tax increase and federal aid won’t cover the budget deficit they’re facing, $1,000 bonus checks for educators are starting to arrive, and the Florida Virtual School now expects 12,500 fulltime students. Here are details about those stories and other developments from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities:
Miami-Dade: Superintendent Alberto Carvalho said Tuesday that he will follow a “process” in consulting with health professionals when the district decides whether to require face masks, and that threats from the governor about withholding the pay of superintendents and school board members in districts that don’t comply with the state’s rules won’t affect that decision. “At no point shall I allow my decision to be influenced by a threat to my paycheck, a small price to pay considering the gravity of this issue and the potential impact to the health and well-being of our students and dedicated employees,” he said. That decision on masks is expected next week. Schools open Aug. 23. WFOR.
Broward: School board members voted 8-1 Tuesday to keep the face mask mandate for students that they approved last week, with opt-outs available only for students with medical conditions or those whose individual education plans require no masks. Board members said the mandate is necessary because of the surging number of coronavirus cases and rising hospitalization rates among children. They were undeterred by the governor’s threat to withhold pay for superintendents and school board members in district that defy the state rules, which insist parents have the right to opt-out of local school mask mandates. “Lose our salaries? Bring it,” said board member Nora Rupert. “I’ll work for McDonald’s if I have to,” said board chair Rosalind Osgood. “At least I’ll be able to have a moral conscience and know I didn’t put someone’s life at risk.” After the vote, the board received a letter from Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran warning the district to “remedy this glaring non-compliance.” Sun Sentinel. Miami Herald. Politico Florida. WLRN. WPLG. WFOR. WTVJ. WSVN. Florida Politics. Attorneys for accused Parkland school shooter Nikolas Cruz are asking a judge to close pretrial hearings, arguing that allowing certain evidence to be publicized will harm Cruz’s right to a fair trial. Associated Press.
Orange: About 4.5 percent of the district’s nearly 180,000 students have opted-out of wearing face masks to school, district officials said Tuesday. That’s about 8,200 students. School officials also reported more than 200 cases of the coronavirus since Aug. 2: 148 among employees, 60 students and a vendor. Orlando Sentinel. WKMG. WOFL. Two new high schools opened Tuesday. Horizon High School and Lake Buena Vista High bring the district’s total of traditional public high schools to 22. Orlando Sentinel.
Palm Beach: At least six of the 12 teachers at a Tequesta church preschool have resigned after the school imposed a mandatory mask policy for teachers and other workers, regardless of their vaccination status. First Presbyterian Church elder Tim O’Neill said school leadership felt the rising number of COVID-19 cases required the mask mandate to remain. WPTV.
Duval: The Diocese of St. Augustine has reversed course and decided to require students to wear face masks in schools this fall. Diocese officials made the change after learning that the governor’s executive order on face masks does not apply to private schools. The new policy applies to all students over the age of 5, and began Tuesday. WJXT. WTLV. About 7,000 Ducal school district students have now chosen to opt-out of the face mask requirement, school officials said Tuesday. WTLV.
Lee: Parents of more than 10,600 of the district’s students – 12 percent – have completed forms to opt their children out of wearing a mask in school. District officials said more forms could arrive this week. WBBH. Florida Politics. Kathleen and Jeremy Jasper of Estero have pleaded guilty to racketeering charges for stealing and selling Florida teacher-certification test information from 2016 to 2020. They’ll be sentenced Nov. 15. News Service of Florida.
Pasco: Nearly 80 school bus routes were unassigned for the first day of school Tuesday because of a shortage of drivers. Many buses arrived at schools up to 45 minutes late. The district needs 111 bus drivers. WFLA.
Volusia: The school district faces a deficit of between $23 million and $53 million that extra revenue generated by property taxes and federal aid will not cover, district chief financial officer Lisa Snead told the school board Tuesday. But board member Ruben Colon pointed out that more federal aid is on the way. “This is not doom and gloom. We’re going to be OK,” he said. Daytona Beach News-Journal.
St. Johns: Face masks continued to dominate the discussion at Tuesday’s heated, seven-hour school board meeting. Some parents said a mask mandate was needed to keep children safe, while others argued that masks were not practical and could be harmful, and that it should be a parent’s right to decide whether their children wear them. No action was taken by the board, and the district’s mask-optional policy remains in place. St. Augustine Record. WJXT. WJCT.
Sarasota: Superintendent Brennan Asplen said Tuesday that the surging number of coronavirus cases has prompted him to cancel all school field trips, and no visitors and volunteers will be allowed in schools for at least 30 days. Charlotte Sun. WTSP.
St. Lucie: School board members voted 4-1 on Tuesday to reinstate a face mask mandate for all students, starting today. Parents will be able to opt-out for their children. The mask policy will be revisited by the board monthly. TCPalm. WPTV.
Leon, Alachua: Leon Superintendent Rocky Hanna weakened the district’s face mask mandate on Tuesday over concerns about its legality and the repercussions threatened by Florida Education Commissioner Corcoran in a letter to school officials. Students in all grades are required to wear masks, but parents can now choose to opt-out without a note from a health professional. Corcoran’s letter, which was also sent to Alachua County school officials, demanded that the districts document how they’re complying with the state’s rule on face masks. “Depending on the facts presented, I may recommend to the state Board of Education that the department withhold funds in an amount equal to the salaries for the superintendent and all the members of the school board,” Corcoran wrote. Alachua board chair Leanetta McNealy called the letter “threatening,” but added that it won’t change that school board’s decision. Tallahassee Democrat. WTXL. WCTV. WFSU. Tallahassee Reports. WFOR. News Service of Florida. Gainesville Sun.
Citrus: A Citrus Springs Middle School teacher has been arrested and charged with trafficking in fentanyl, own/rent/lease a residence for the trafficking in a controlled substance, possession of methamphetamine with intent to distribute, possession of heroin with intent to distribute and drug paraphernalia. Jeffrey Scott Brake, 52, was arrested at his Dunnellon home on Monday. Citrus County Chronicle. Tampa Bay Times. WFLA.
Colleges and universities: Food orders will be delivered to Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University students this fall by robots, making the school the first in Florida to offer the service. On-demand deliveries are part of students’ meal plan. Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University.
Educator bonuses: Teachers and principals are starting to receive their $1,000 bonus checks. The checks were postmarked Aug. 3, and include a letter of thanks from Gov. DeSantis. About 180,000 educators will receive checks, and they will also have to pay taxes on the bonus. WFLA.
FLVS enrollment: More than 12,300 fulltime students are expected to enroll this fall in the Florida Virtual School. That’s below the number who attended last year, but more than double the 5,788 who were enrolled when the 2019-2020 school year ended. redefinED.
Opinions on schools: Broward educators showed leadership at a time when they are facing irresponsible threats from Gov. DeSantis as the deadly Delta variant spirals out of control. They also have a duty to protect a huge population of unvaccinated kids in the nation’s sixth-largest school system. Sun Sentinel. Schools and businesses in Florida have been Gov. DeSantis’ political pawns in his offensive against public-health measures that would contain the spread of the highly transmissible delta variant of the coronavirus. And, at least some of them have said: “Enough!” Many more should join them. Miami Herald. DeSantis mandate or not, Florida children should wear masks in school. We’re the COVID epicenter of the nation right now — and most Florida children are unvaccinated. Fabiola Santiago, Miami Herald. Parents’ anxieties about safely sending their children back to school can be understood after looking at these four charts. Tampa Bay Times. With his anti-mask mandate, Gov. DeSantis is giving Florida’s students the freedom to catch the coronavirus. Randy Schultz, Sun Sentinel. Gov. DeSantis’ executive order missed the mark with its claim that “forcing students to wear masks lacks a well-grounded scientific justification” by citing a study that offers little basis for his position and includes a variety of elements that are not accurate. PolitiFact. No matter where you stand on wearing face masks, it’s a great time to remind kids to be quality human beings. To stand up for those being picked on, to not participate or punch down. To offer friendship. Stephanie Hayes, Tampa Bay Times. In starting the backyard enterprise that became the Special Olympics, Eunice Kennedy Shriver taught us all what it means to “ask not” what politicians can do for us, but to ask instead what we can do to help others. Which is why Eunice is the Kennedy most deserving of a Citizenship Gold Medal. At least in my book. William Mattox, Dallas Morning News.